World Environment Day: Real Estate that Could Save the Earth

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With all this talk of climate change, it’s easy to forget that it’s more than just a catchy phrase. The earth’s temperature has reached a historic high, and natural habitats, resources and wildlife are experiencing a rapid decline.

In honour of World Environment Day, here are some ways you can create a sustainable real estate business and the reasons why you should.
 

What role does real estate play in global warming?

Heating and electricity make up 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. On top of that, studies show that cement alone is the source of 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Real estate is one of the leading causes of climate change, but as technology continues to advance, there are a wide variety of solutions to help create a sustainable future to save our planet.
 

Become a “Green” Certified Realtor

With global warming on the rise, consumers are becoming more conscious of their environmental footprint. As millennials begin to purchase their first homes – especially across Atlantic Canada – demand for sustainable housing continues to rise. To keep up with changing environmental, political, and economic conditions, it has never been more important to become educated on sustainable practices and solutions to the world’s most pressing issue.

Although official certifications are currently limited, Canadian real estate professionals can opt for “green” designations through the National Association of Realtors, such as the NAR Green Designation. This program provides a holistic understanding of how homes with sustainable and environmentally friendly features should be marketed differently than traditional homes. The ecoBroker designation, provided by the Association of Energy and Environment Real Estate Professionals, is suitable for both residential and commercial markets. It covers a wide range of topics in renewable energy, green financing, organic practices, and transparency in the real estate transaction.
 

Develop Properties with Sustainable Alternatives

As more real estate professionals begin to enter the development space, it’s important to prioritize sustainable practices in property development. Concrete is the most used man-made material in the world, and the most consumed resource – second only to water itself. Its production emits billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every single year.

Finding concrete alternatives that suit the needs of your property is one of the best possible approaches to reduce the environmental impact of your business. Although the options and their functionalities are limited, for the time being, innovative solutions include biocement™ created by bioMASON which is grown with the help of trillions of microorganisms.

Another newly emerging concrete substitute is ferrock. 95% of ferrock is a combination of recycled materials like glass and steel dust, making it five times stronger than concrete. It actually works to capture CO2 emissions and is a much safer material to use in construction. Depending on the climate of where you work, other substitutes for cement could include “grasscrete” for driveways, which allows grass and other plants to grow in small hole patterns across the concrete flooring. Bamboo, recycled plastic, and “hempcrete” are also up-and-coming alternatives to concrete and cement.
 

Encourage Your Clients to Add Sustainable Features to their Homes

There are a number of upgrades that home-owners can invest in, not just to drastically reduce carbon emissions, but to save on monthly expenses. Of these, the most impactful is solar panels, which can reduce anywhere between 2-16 metric tons of CO2 depending on the size of your solar system. They are an especially economical option for a newly purchased home, as installation costs are offset over the years by the savings on utility expenses. There are also a number of financing and loan options available to make sustainable homes more accessible to home-owners. If your client is looking to sell their home, it’s worth noting that solar panels can add 3 to 4% percent to the value of their property.

Energy Star labelled appliances are another cost-effective, sustainable solution to encourage your clients to invest in. Replacing old appliances like washer/dryers and refrigerators with energy-efficient alternatives can help reduce your client’s environmental impact significantly, and save them money on their energy bills in the long run. One of the best Energy Star investments your client can make is an energy efficient water heater, which makes up 19% of the energy consumption in the average Canadian household. Because they operate around the clock, they are one of the most wasteful and environmentally harmful appliances in a household. You can decrease carbon emissions by seven tons by switching to a tankless water heater that operates on demand, or by installing a solar water heater to completely minimize your environmental impact.

A unique and sustainable solution to high water consumption is rainwater harvesting. The average Canadian household uses 511,000 litres of water throughout the year, and by harvesting rainwater, the average homeowner could save 30 to 50% on their water bills. Since half of the water we consume is used in our toilets and washing machines, water harvesting is a highly economical choice considering it’s not necessarily ideal to drink or shower in.
 

The Time to Take Action is Now

Although “green” real estate is gaining popularity, it shouldn’t be a niche market. Time left to save the planet is running out, and every real estate professional should put sustainability at the core of their business. Working in an industry that accounts for almost half of the world’s carbon and greenhouse gas emissions means that agents, brokers and developers alike need to change their business models to adapt to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Whether it’s through supporting clients in making sustainable upgrades to their homes, or partnering on Net Zero Energy developments, we all have a responsibility to give back to the place we call home.

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