Guest Post by Mary-Louise Gray, Microsoft

The changes in human behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic have clearly led to an environmental upturn – now more than ever we must hold to our sustainability commitments

While we all adjust to life during COVID-19, we have witnessed a significant decrease in the contributors to climate change due our global response to the pandemic. According to the Centre for Research and Clean Air, worldwide nitrogen dioxide output was 40% lower and particulate matter (air) pollution was 10% lower during February 2020 alone. A report from the International Energy Agency states that global CO2 emissions are on track to fall by 8% in 2020, which could be the largest drop in recorded history.

Clearly, our global reduction in industry and travel—including a significant decrease in the number of people commuting to their offices—are contributing directly to an environmental upturn.

Our planet’s environment has seen this kind of positive change before during times of global economic recession, such as the financial crash of 2008 and the repercussions of World War II. Unfortunately, recovery in the past has typically focused on getting the economy back on track, and any environmental gains of our short-term behavioural changes have fallen by the wayside.

While this pandemic has the potential to shift our priorities away from sustainability, we don’t have to let it do so. We can hold our momentum around carbon control, environmental protection, and responsible use of water, energy, and other resources.

We all know that climate change and sustainability have long been increasingly important topics, and in many industries it has reached a top priority. In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as an “urgent call to action”. While many CRE organizations have taken these goals to heart, PWC research shows there is still a gap between larger real estate corporations’ good intentions and their ability to integrate the UN’s SDGs into their own business strategy.

Now, more than ever, these SDGs can be guiding lights for continuing a sustainability focus within corporate real estate, while we also attend to the health of our economy, our employees, and our citizens worldwide.  

Pursuing UN SDGs—a key strategy

The building industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change, with direct impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, ecosystems, and resources. The World Economic Forum estimates that buildings annually consume over 40% of the global energy and produces about a third of the world’s global greenhouse emissions. This is in addition to the industry’s hefty use of raw materials and water, and its contribution to solid waste fills.

Acutely aware of our own contribution as both a business and a real estate player, Microsoft has been committed to sustainability for almost two decades. As part of that strategy, our real estate group is also following the UN’s 17 SDGs. We are applying recommended initiatives in six areas: water, waste, energy, social responsibility, health & wellbeing, and travel.

With the help of our Facility Management service provider, Sodexo, we have developed a “Sustainability Best Practice Guide” that collates all UN SDGs, converts them into practical initiatives, and presents them in a digital, interactive book. Our teams have an accessible tool to guide us through various sustainability initiatives and how to apply them, so we can continue to make our buildings part of the solution, not the problem.

For instance, in the categories of energy consumption and air pollution, the guide offers various initiatives that address UN SDGs 7 (Renewable Energy), 9 (Innovation & Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities & Community), and 13 (Climate Action). Here are some examples in the guide:

Mitigating energy Levels

·        Add refrigerant enhancer to cooling systems

·        Install solar panels

·        Replace lighting with LED bulbs

Reducing air pollution: alternative travel methods

·        Encourage and provide support for “Cycle to Work”

·        Adjust supplier delivery schedules to reduce their number of trips

·        Install charging points for electric vehicles and E-bikes

Whether large or small, each initiative is discrete unto itself and includes complete how-to information, supporting links, and tips for successful implementation. Our Facilities Managers can choose the specific initiatives they wish to carry out without being overwhelmed by project planning, budgeting, and lack of inspiration: the guide takes care of it all.

In the months before COVID-19, using the guide was already enabling Microsoft RE&F to identify and implement dozens of UN-based sustainability projects and were producing tangible results that benefit our planet.  

With resolution, we can keep sustainability at the forefront

The pandemic has forced a global change in our daily behavior, which has shown us that it is possible to significantly reduce our negative impact on the climate. The proof of our planet’s resiliency has renewed our faith and strengthened our commitment to protect its ecosystems and resources—and thereby protect humans themselves for generations to come. Everyone has access to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and ours is just one way of addressing them. As we all emerge from the effects of this pandemic, we invite every other CRE professional to join us in keeping the health of our recovering planet on equal footing with the health of our recovering economy and public safety.

Mary-Louise Gray is Regional Director – Real Estate & Facilities EMEA at Microsoft.