Toward Sustainable Buildings and Communities: Takeaways from the ULI Netherlands Annual Conference
by Sarah Marchionda on 04/06/2019
Last updated on 03/06/2019
On 22 May 2019, Innovation Lighthouse attended the third annual ULI Netherlands conference, Toward a Balanced Urban Society. Throughout the day, a series of thought leaders shared their vision on how the building sector can contribute to more sustainable and future-proof communities. Here’s what we heard:
The building sector (including real estate investors, developers and building owners and operators) has the ability to influence global energy consumption patterns and GHG emissions.
• Climate change, combined with population growth and urbanization, is putting unprecedented pressure on cities and the built environment. Despite taking up only 3% of space on the planet, cities are responsible for over two-thirds of energy consumption, representing between 60-80% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
• Buildings are responsible for over 35% of global energy consumption - attributable to energy used to construct buildings (i.e. embodied energy), and to operate buildings (including space and water heating and cooling, and power).
• During the Measuring Value panel, Erik Bichard, Director of RealWorth Strategy described that one of the main roadblocks to sustainable development is the perceived high upfront costs of investing in sustainability. He reminded us that it is possible to achieve attractive returns on investment with sustainability projects, particularly when the value of pro-social and environmental measures are taken into account. By assigning value to factors like cleaner air, social connectedness, biodiversity, resilience, and improved quality of living, the value of sustainability projects can be optimized.
• We heard from Eva Gladek, Founder and CEO of Metabolic, that decision makers must apply a systems thinking approach to planning and development. By looking at the system within which a building or community is operating, decision makers can more effectively evaluate trade-offs, target investments, optimize value and maximize impact. The following image, provided by Metabolic, illustrates one example of how a systems thinking lens can be applied to the construction stage of the development process, by illustrating the relative climate change impacts of various building materials.
• There was resounding consensus among the speakers about the point made by Kristian Koreman, Co-Founding Partner at ZUS, that the building sector must move away from “spreadsheet urbanism”, and move toward a more holistic and people-centric approach to planning and development. He reminded us that by putting users at the centre of design, we can create truly livable communities, even in the most unexpected places.
• By improving the integration between buildings and transportation networks, cities can reduce dependency on cars, and reduce the overall energy and carbon footprint of our communities. Peter Calthorpe of Calthorpe Associates shared urban design principles to achieve this, and the message was further reinforced by Graeme Craig, Director of Commercial Development, Transport for London, who described how many of these principles are being realized in the City of London. Rieneke van Noort, Team Captain at Delft Hyperloop provided further inspiration, by encouraging conference participants to consider how transportation networks, and linkages between regions, can be reimagined with hyperloop infrastructure.
In summary, one of the key takeaways from the ULI Annual Conference is that the building sector has an essential role to play as cities navigate challenges related to climate change, urbanization and social wellbeing. There are tools and approaches available today, and many good examples of implementation that the sector can draw upon in the shift toward sustainable and future-proof buildings.
Find the full conference program and list of speakers here.