AWS Smart Business Blog

How Small and Medium Businesses Can Lower Emissions Through Green and Sustainable Buildings

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates carbon emissions from buildings and construction constitute almost 40% of global carbon emissions. The Tracking Buildings 2021 Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights that all new buildings and 20 percent of the existing building stock would need to be zero-carbon-ready as soon as 2030 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The buildings sector, including public, residential, and commercial premises, accounts directly and indirectly for 30 percent of the final energy consumed around the world. This equates to nearly 55 percent of global electricity consumption.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs)—also known as small and medium businesses (SMBs)—represent a significant proportion of commercial energy use. For example, in the UK almost 1.5 million small business premises account for 50 percent of commercial energy use, yet there is potential to reduce energy consumption by up to 40 percent. Energy efficiency regulations within building standards have tightened in alignment with the international commitment to Net Zero Emissions so commercial landlords and small business tenants are incentivized to innovate. However, Energy Systems Catapult found that SMEs often cite a “lack of time, money, or confidence in the solutions available” to implement energy saving measures.

This blog post showcases how the following trades in the construction industry can use Amazon Web Services to achieve their sustainability targets in the cloud and through the cloud for greener buildings:

  • Property developers
  • Property managers
  • Maintenance
  • Refurbishment
  • Retrofitters
  • Property demolition

Standards and certifications to monitor and evaluate green building performance

The World Green Building Council (WGBC), Green Building Initiative, and other organizations guide the construction industry toward better building best practices. Industry recognized-building sustainability certifications, including Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and WELL Building Standard define performance measurement methodology, metrics, and benchmarks to measure and verify sustainability performance across a building’s lifecycle. These seven specifications impact design decisions, material choices, and construction scheduling:

  1. Energy efficiency: Reduce energy consumption, including appliances, processes, lighting, heating, ventilation, and cooling systems, and recognize renewable energy generation associated with the building.
  2. Water efficiency and conservation: Minimize internal and external potable water consumption for appliances, equipment and processes, including cooling, sanitation and refrigeration. Minimize water loss via leakage.
  3. Emissions: Reduce carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations of chemical contaminants such as volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from materials, furniture, adhesives and interior finishes.
  4. Indoor environment quality: Maximize air quality, interior lighting, acoustic performance, thermal comfort, quality views and daylight.
  5. Materials and resource use: Sourced materials in a responsible way and have a low embodied impact over their life including extraction, processing and manufacture, and recycling.
  6. Operations and maintenance: Activities, processes, and workflows required to keep the entire built environment as contained in building asset facilities and their supporting infrastructure in a condition to be used to meet their intended function during their life cycle.
  7. Waste reduction: Implementation of active waste reduction, recycling and reuse programs for sustainable management of construction waste, operational waste and waste through future maintenance and repairs associated with the building.

The above areas of focus are commonly included in green building assessments. Read on to see how customers have implemented sustainability solutions on AWS to address performance in these key areas.

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Five key areas to achieve better green building performance

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with JLL, established the Green Building Principles as part of The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings in October 2021. These principles encompass commercial and technical changes across five key areas so that buildings and cities become more liveable, sustainable, resilient, and affordable.

1. Adopting a data-driven approach

Construction delivery, management, and operations teams should calculate a robust carbon footprint of the real estate portfolio to identify the major sources of emissions and guide the development and prioritization of an effective strategy. This may require ingesting data from existing sources, integrating new data from IoT sensors, and forecasting emissions as interventions are successfully delivered.

digital twin image

Figure 1: Example of a digital twin used for facilities management

2. Setting goals along the journey

C-suite executives and line of business leaders should set interim targets for 2030 to achieve the net-zero carbon target by 2050 or earlier. Effective goal setting requires a clear organizational vision and will involve many stakeholders across the company.

3. Tackling embodied carbon

Measure and record embodied carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes using a whole lifecycle approach. Embodied carbon emissions can be significantly higher than operational carbon emissions over a building’s lifespan, with a substantial portion occurring prior to the building becoming operational. As business operations scale, emissions monitoring tools and processes should scale as well. High-quality carbon offsets may still be needed to negate residual emissions.

4. Focusing on clean energy

Define energy efficiency targets and identify the energy optimizations required to meet standards. You can even seek to maximize power procured from on-site and off-site renewable energy sources. The International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) provides a framework to verify a project has the potential to perform and save energy, and to quantify site-level energy and cost impacts from a targeted project.

5. Collaborating widely

Engage upstream and downstream stakeholders to reduce emissions in the value chain to reduce Scope 3 emissions related to buildings. Financial analysts and business development executives can identify joint endeavors to equitably share costs and benefits of interventions via structured mechanisms such as green financing, green leases and building owner and tenant engagement plans.

Next steps

AWS is ready to support the goal of greener buildings and our customer sustainability case studies show how AWS has accelerated progress towards sustainability at each stage of a building’s lifecycle. For more sustainability information, review sustainability-tagged AWS blog posts. Not sure where to begin? You can contact us to find an AWS expert to help guide your SMB sustainability journey.

Darren Ko

Darren Ko

Darren Ko is a Solutions Architect who advises UK and Ireland SMB customers on re-architecting and innovating on the cloud. Darren is passionate about solving sustainability challenges with machine learning. He holds a Master's degree in Computer Science from University College London and is based in the UK.

Otis Antoniou

Otis Antoniou

Otis Antoniou is a Solutions Architect specializing in sustainability. As part of the UK and Ireland SMB team, he enjoys helping customers innovate and solve business problems using AWS. Before joining AWS, Otis was an analyst at LU Ghosal Investment Fund. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Lancaster University and is based in the UK.

Pranav Sharma

Pranav Sharma

Pranav Sharma is a Principal Solutions Architect based in London. He leads growth initiatives for the UK SMB segment focused on emerging business and technology trends. Pranav is passionate about sustainability and helps customers achieve their sustainability goals using AWS. He holds a Master's degree in Computer Science from Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya and is based in the UK.