Cities are exerting greater negative environmental impact than ever, and creating sustainable urban development depends on companies taking the initiative to do more than just erase their carbon footprint.

From the emissions produced in construction to the eco-footprint accrued in the operations of the finished property, real estate has a major – and growing – impact on the natural world, with more buildings being built each year.

Sustainability-conscious businesses have long aimed to be carbon-neutral – meaning to cancel out the emissions their operations produce. An example of how this ‘cancellation’ occurs is through investments in waste-processing or more efficient servers. But businesses can do more than just neutral.

A growing swath of companies are adopting a more ambitious strategy, known as net-positive. Net-positive organizations are acting in absence of government action. These companies have realized the importance of not just creating a low to neutral environmental impact, but that putting more into society and the environment than they take out of it creates a lot of benefits.

The power of net-positive

Companies strive to be net-positive in particular areas – such as carbon emissions or water usage. Typically, these are the areas where they work towards creating a greater positive impact than their negative. These impacts are not measured holistically –  they cannot “trade” impact across areas. Savings in water usage can’t offset carbon emissions from travel.

For major real estate corporations including Mirvac, Berkeley Group, and Majid Al Futtaim, net-positive initiatives focus not just on reducing carbon emissions and scaling back on water usage, but also on investments in socio-economic programs, local job creation, and skills training. Property companies are realizing the importance of a net-positive approach, as well as the growth opportunities it presents. This in turn is becoming a key factor for consideration when undertaking a property search

Becoming net-positive – for property owners and developers

Developer Hammerson recently launched its strategy to achieve net-positive status for carbon use and resource use in all its properties by 2030.

To create such a significant change, all aspects of building construction and management teams need to be on board with the plans to implement more efficient systems. Landlords, developers, suppliers and even tenants have a role to play. The multi-phase plan offers the opportunity to address huge social and environmental challenges we are facing.

For developers, the foundations of a successful, net-positive sustainability strategy lie in the ability to define each property’s electricity use, carbon use or water use; then setting short- and long-term goals for reducing negative impact and promoting positive impact – and as crucially, a robust system for tracking results.

Though net-positive strategies depend on reducing impact area by area, some developers are setting bigger goals. For continued long-term success, it’s important that businesses exist as a force for good, which means taking much bolder steps to protect the natural environment within cities and urban developments.

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