Healthy Buildings for a Post Pandemic World

We speak to Breana Wheeler, Director of Operations of BREEAM USA on sustainable buildings, climate change and more.


Karrah Krakovyak
Sustainability Innovator
More about Karrah Krakovyak
Highlights from this article

Buildings contribute to about 40% of GHG emissions globally. So it's a huge footprint, and we're building more, more and more every day. And in fact, the pace of construction is really considerable.

What do we do with all this building stock now, 5.6 million existing buildings in the US, we're actually building in more problems for ourselves to potentially. So how are we going to address that? It's a huge issue. And of course, lots of different industries, lots of different players in it. You have owners who, are buying and selling assets. They're trying to determine value and make a return on their investments. You have tenants who are using these buildings. Not always the most effectively, but also have a really big decisive factor in how these buildings operate. There's a lot of different pieces and trying to kind of pull all these bits together and, kind of focus them on that big picture of how do we get to net zero is pretty daunting.

Energy in particular is a really huge cost in some markets more than others. There's not always that driver, but for some businesses, it's the second, most expensive cost after healthcare for their employees. So, when we're talking about business viability over the long term businesses that are in it, a net zero building, it's one less thing for them to worry about from a cost perspective, but also on a resilience perspective.

So I live in California, I'm live in San Francisco and we've experienced brownouts because of climate change impacts. We have huge wildfire risks and our utility PG&E has at times had to shut off the electricity to many areas. So, how is this? This is terrible for the economy, right? Terrible for businesses, and so I, I view that very much as a resilience piece. And so it really is about supporting the economy, supporting our tenants, our companies, and really the jobs that are all underpinned by those businesses.

If you have a building that has a concrete structure immediately, just by not ripping that down, you're saving huge amounts of carbon. And I think that's the big conversation now is we're building all these new buildings is how do we avoid the embodied carbon that then has such a long payback, right? So even if even if you build a building that. Operationally is net zero. The embodied carbon can take a long time to pay off. But it certainly, we know that we can't build our way out of the net zero or out of the climate change problem. Right. We can't simply rip down, even if we had, a very low embodied carbon construction methods.

Everybody has a role to play, and everybody must play a role. We have 5.6 million existing buildings, and we need a lot of them to start acting. To address climate crisis in particular. So for us, being able to provide this definition of sustainability that considers all these different aspects and provides an opportunity to evaluate and make better decisions we feel is really super important.

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