Welcome to the first issue of Zero. I’m so happy to have you as part of the conversation. 

My guess is you're here because you’re a changemaker with a desire to accelerate your decarbonization impact. Same.

For this inaugural newsletter, I want to get us all up to speed on decarbonization planning for the commercial built world and its impact on scaling our efforts to create more sustainable spaces, manage transition risk, and create asset value. For some of you, this may be new information; for others, it may be old news (in that case, reach out and we can collab on future content, like the webinar below). 

I’ve been at this for a while, as an energy auditor, retrofit project manager, systems integrator, teacher, and now as the CEO of Audette. While I’ve been enthused to see global motivation behind decarb growing, it’s been tough to see progress hampered by old-school thinking and a lack of understanding. Simply put, our approach to decarbonization planning has failed to adapt to the demands of a true no-carbon economy.

Energy audits are broken 

The first North American standard for commercial energy audits was published by ASHRAE in 2004, a full 20 years ago. At the time, it defined level 1, 2, and 3 studies as the de facto standards for analyzing existing building systems and energy upgrades. 

While the specifics have evolved, the structure remains the same. As a community, we do the same walkthroughs, fill out the same forms, produce the same reports, over and over again.   

The problem is that energy audits were never intended to drive capital planning. They were intended to inform implementation. I absolutely believe sending a technologist into your boiler room is valuable, but it's during implementation time that having those boots on the ground becomes really necessary.

Energy audits take an average of three months to produce and cost anywhere between $10,000 and $60,000 apiece. When we think about originating the trillions of dollars of retrofits necessary to get to a zero-carbon future, we simply cannot afford (as individual organizations, or as an industry) energy audits at every asset, and so we have no visibility into the vast majority of our building stock, unable to allocate capital and invest in the levers of real change. 

The truth is, anyone who has performed more than a handful of audits begins to rely heavily on their ability to pattern-match their observations to their experience. Modeling new buildings then becomes an exercise of cycling through a finite set of possible designs. It is complicated, sure, but it is certainly not magic.   

A sustainable path forward 

There is a time and a place for detailed studies. Onsite investigations are a highly valuable pre-construction feasibility activity, as they help us figure out the specific nuances of implementation. 

The purpose of tool-based decarbonization planning is not to displace them, but to push them down the value chain when they no longer pose a bottleneck to taking action.

We need to collectively give ourselves a bit of a break. We can’t expect to go into decarbonization trying to get absolutely every detail hammered into every single project before we even get started. If we do, we’ll have failed before we’ve even started. 

What we can do is start with lower-resolution portfolio-scale models, and then improve the fidelity of those models as we get closer to the implementation horizon.

Let’s not wait for perfect data. Let’s work with the data we have today, and incrementally improve from there.

Luckily, the very real constraints of time and money are giving rise to new tech-driven approaches to decarbonization planning

Decarbonization isn’t simple, but it can be a whole lot easier

The biggest barriers to effective decarbonization planning are usually:

  • Being stuck in data collection mode, struggling to get property-level data
  • Being stuck in analysis paralysis mode unable to take action, because the wrong choice could cost millions
  • Not having the technical expertise to validate the right projects to undertake
  • Educating, aligning, and securing buy-in from key internal stakeholders

Let’s not pretend decarbonization is simple. But it really doesn’t have to be so hard. Decarbonization planning is the bridge that will take us from measurement and reporting to executing against our goals — and when done right, it can be a meaningful shortcut and fast-track your net zero strategy by years.

My mission is to unblock decarbonization for the biggest portfolios on earth, the ones that move markets. By pre-modeling the built environment, and encoding our team’s expertise as building scientists, we can now generate actionable capital plans — before deploying expensive audits.

Our contribution to combating climate change is making decarbonization planning faster, cheaper, and more scalable than has ever been possible before.

Our collective journey to zero

So, let’s work together. As we develop this body of knowledge, I want to know what challenges you are facing in your decarbonization efforts. 

I, for one, am constantly learning from this community. Many of you are leading incredible charges in decarbonization and sustainability, and I’m excited to hear more about your efforts, your questions, and what you think some of the most pressing questions are — we’d love to include your voice in a future issue of Zero. 

Let’s start with a conversation about business cases

I’m excited to host a discussion on "Making (& Winning) the Business Case for Decarbonization in Real Estate” with Mauricio Serna, SVP and Global Head of ESG at Starwood Capital, and Jill Brosig, Chief Impact and Sustainability Officer at Harrison Street. 

This is the first in a series of thought leadership webinars we are hosting to showcase the work of real estate leaders tackling decarbonization.

From this first webinar, you can expect to hear about: 

  • 🏢 Advanced strategies for effective decarbonization planning
  • ⚡️Methods for quantifying the business impact of decarbonization on value creation, value protection and risk mitigation
  • 💡 Tactics for building organizational support to advance (and fund) your net zero strategy

Save your spot for our conversation on May 22nd here.

We can’t reach zero alone. I would be grateful if you’d share this with anyone in your network who would find it useful, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on your path to decarbonization.

Until next time,

Christopher 

Re-thinking the role of audits in decarbonization planning

Re-thinking the role of audits in decarbonization planning

Welcome to Zero's inaugural issue! We're diving into the essentials of decarbonization planning, exploring sustainable practices, and introducing tech-driven solutions to streamline the journey to a zero-carbon future. Let's accelerate our impact together!

CRREM’s rollout in the US & Canada

CRREM’s rollout in the US & Canada

The Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) is set to revolutionize carbon reduction strategies in North American commercial real estate. Learn how this framework will impact investor sentiment and property values.

The CRREM crossover: Preparing for CRREM’s rollout in the US & Canada

The CRREM crossover: Preparing for CRREM’s rollout in the US & Canada

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Making (& winning) the business case for decarbonization in real estate

Making (& winning) the business case for decarbonization in real estate

Without a strong business case, your decarbonization strategy won’t get funded. Learn about how to build organizational buy-in and alignment with a data-driven business case.

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Monthly news & insights on decarbonizing the built environment.

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