Many of our most important and debated environmental problems of today have a tight relationship to the built environment. Examples are energy use, diffusion of chemical compounds through building materials and products and negative health impacts caused by emissions to indoor environments. Systematic work with such issues practiced in environmental management systems has become more and more common in companies, also in real estate companies. A series of studies have been exploring whether the application of environmental management systems also effectively ascertain reduced environmental impact. It has turned out that in many cases, this was not even possible to evaluate, since follow-up procedures often are insufficient.
The purpose of this project was to study environmental management in real estate companies and to come up with ideas on how this practice could benefit from improved follow-up of environmental impact. In the first part of the project, nine real estate companies of different types were studied through deep interviews and document analysis. The companies were primarily chosen because they were considered to have an ambitious environmental management practice. And even though many of the companies also were very ambitious, the results indicate that it is difficult to draw conclusions concerning improvements in terms of reduced environmental impact. The formulation of targets and objectives with unclear relation to reduced environmental impact is an important reason. A result is that follow-up of improvements is pursued in diverse ways and this is mainly due to the difficulties of relating company activities to environmental impact.
In the second part of the project a case study of a real estate unit (a housing unit with 900 apartments) was pursued. Large amounts of quantitative data on environmentally influencing flows were collected in order to explore the possibilities to account for the environmental impact of such a unit. Based on these data, a few environmental indicators with as clear relationship to environmental impact as possible were suggested and calculated, mainly through LCA-methodology. The amount of CO2-equivalents per year caused by the energy use and transports of the unit is one example of an indicator, which is expressing the unit’s contributions to the global problem of climate change. Both the flow’s extent and significance are then expressed in contrast to traditional measurements of energy use, like the amount of kWh/sqm and year.
Indicators of this type may be used in order to develop environmental management in real estate companies, for example to formulate objectives and targets with a higher degree of relationship to environmental impact and to follow-up the efficiency of the environmental management system more clearly. For energy use, this is possible today. For other aspects in real estate management, indicators need to be developed further. Concerning availability of data from real estate for calculating environmental impact, structural difficulties to find data is a problem for some activities. However, routines for data collection are possible to develop. Clear, quantitative target formulations and benchmarking are examples of situations that support the introduction of routines for such data collection.
Stockholm: KTH , 2004. , x, 189 p.
environmental management systems, real estate management, environmental impact, environmental performance