Real Estate

A report by global design firm Gensler recently reported planet Earth can sidestep global climate catastrophe only by slashing greenhouse pollution 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

The figures Gensler cited were from Architecture 2030, an organization whose mission is to “rapidly transform the built environment from the major emitter of greenhouse gases to a central solution to the climate crisis.”

If that unprecedented change is to be realized, real estate designers, developers and contractors will need to lead the way by altering the way the built environment operates and is constructed.

After all, the built environment produces 40% of global CO2 emissions each year, a number reached by adding 27% from building operations and another 13% from infrastructure materials and construction, generally called “embodied carbon.”

Design and development firms across North America and the world are cognizant of the hurdle. Their mission to hire for change is reflected in the emergence of climate-centric professional titles few if any observers had heard of just five years ago.

Elephants’ skin

Take the title Director of Biomimicry, at Toronto, Ont.-based B+H Architects, a position held by Jamie Miller. Miller is responsible for increasing the firm’s Biomimicry consulting offering on a global scale.

As the term suggests, biomimicry examines the designs and systems refined over eons in the natural world and attempts to learn how they might be applied to the environments created by humans.

Alongside the firm’s architecture, planning, interior and experiential design divisions, Miller strives to achieve more sustainable and resilient designs.

In designing a private residence in Bengalaru, India, for instance, Miller took his inspiration from the cracks in elephants’ skin. The cracks, which are shaded from the sun to encourage the retention of water and trigger evaporative cooling, sparked Miller’s design of a wall that carries rainwater into the Bengalaru dwelling, in the process cooling the home’s interior.

At another Toronto firm, SvN Architects + Planners, Aaron Budd serves as the Director of Regenerative Practice, a new division focused on integrating architecture, landscape design and planning in a holistic, zero-carbon, circular and resilient community framework.

A response to the looming climate crisis, SvN’s Regenerative Practice is focused on limiting the risk to clients’ projects from future climate-related events. For Budd, the new role means establishing a firm-wide framework and understanding of how to go beyond sustainable design to incorporate human and ecosystem health.

“There is an urgency to integrate our projects with natural and ecological systems that extends beyond sustainable design,” Budd explains. “As a response to our climate crisis, SvN is building a regenerative practice supported by quantifiable impact-oriented performance metrics to define a contextual solution for each project.”

Evolving roles

“It’s a problematic misconception that to achieve any positive social or environmental outcome, there’s somehow a need to sacrifice financial returns. That is simply not the case.” So says Meaghan Peloso, chief financial officer with Dream Impact Trust, one of the largest real estate companies in Canada and the first to launch in Canada a publicly traded impact investing vehicle.

It targets projects creating positive and enduring impact on communities and the environment, while achieving market returns.

Collaborating within an integrated team of financial analysts, engineers and sustainability authorities, Peloso directs and measures the sustainability and social impact of investments. Unlike many other CFOs, her success isn’t as much recorded on spreadsheets as it is reflected in collaboration and strategic foresight.

Much of her day is consumed in analyzing business forecasts and processing the sustainability reporting of leading net zero development projects like Zibi in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. “Impact investing has always been a priority for Dream,” Peloso says. “But it was only recently that we have the language to define it.”

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