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Vision for Future Buildings Emphasizes Sustainability

Neil Strother
Jun 22, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

The future of the built environment occupies the thoughts of numerous people—not just industry stakeholders, but members of the general public as well. Many care intensely about forthcoming changes to the homes, offices, and other commercial buildings where we live, work, and spend leisure time.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights a vision of what buildings could look like in coming years, and it offers a set of needed steps to achieve that vision. It is worth pondering. A fourfold framework underpins this vision, detailing what future real estate should prioritize:

  • Livability: Providing spaces that support a rich and culturally vibrant human existence
  • Sustainability: Targeting zero-carbon output along the value chain, from building construction to operations
  • Resiliency: Evolving to lessen the effects of various unpredictable shocks and being flexible to adapt to changing patterns of working and living throughout a building’s full life cycle
  • Affordability: Providing fair access to quality spaces to live and conduct business, with low barriers to home ownership and affordable rent
Steps to Better Future Buildings

The report also offers five steps, or enablers, to realize WEF’s future buildings vision. Those five enablers are summarized briefly in a separate piece by Christian Ulbrich, global CEO and president of JLL, and co-chair of WEF’s real estate industry group:

  1. Fast-track digitalization and innovation: To harness the vast quantities of data at scale, an interconnected system of smart buildings needs to be created, with data privacy and security as top priorities.
  2. Deep pools of talent and knowledge: The industry should establish the proper mix of C-suite leaders who can drive transformation around sustainability, resilience, and technology.
  3. Proven-value business case: A thorough set of metrics must be created so stakeholders throughout the value chain can be rewarded; this will foster investment, but the scale needs to be supported by compelling business cases and clear ROI.
  4. Greater stakeholder engagement: The real estate community must actively collaborate and engage with city officials to develop effective solutions that help solve municipal and industrial challenges.
  5. Robust regulatory frameworks: Officials must endorse flexible zoning and city development plans that support the coming changes and do so by standardizing fragmented building codes.
Expanding the Vision

I would add a few more steps or strategies to support this future vison, which remains a work in progress:

With the right vision and enabling steps, the future looks bright for buildings from today’s vantage point. However, once the dreaming fades and the real work begins, the question becomes: Will stakeholders muster the volition, courage, and abilities to stay the course and make it happen? My hunch is yes, but the outcomes will likely be different than envisioned.