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January 17, 2022

Leading the way to sustainable real estate management

Leading the way to sustainable real estate management

Interview with Ben Perrett, Etainabl

Electricity and heat, agriculture, forestry and other land use, industrial processes, transportation, and buildings. These are the main sources of global greenhouse gas emissions. In order to successfully transition to a net-zero economy, we have to tackle each of these sectors – and do so fast. One player dedicated to changing the landscape of real estate is up and coming ESG software provider, Etainabl. We had the great pleasure to connect with Ben Perrett, Co-Founder and CEO of Etainabl, to talk about the importance of data-driven building management and how insights into emissions must be firmly embedded in the real estate sector.

In a nutshell, how do you define sustainable real estate management?

Visual of quote by Ben Perret, Etainabl defining sustainable real estate management.

Sustainable real estate management means that the assets contained within a fund have longevity as well as purpose. 

To back up a little: The majority of buildings and housing projects are managed through real estate funds, which are then in a position to take a larger, more comprehensive look at managing – and improving – their buildings, referred to as assets. 

Each asset needs to be managed with sustainability in mind. I believe that real estate  should not only reduce or eliminate negative impacts, but create positive impacts on our climate, natural environment, economy and society. That means we have to look at their design, construction and the way they are operated.

In the current real estate market, what do you perceive as the main challenges to improving sustainability?

There are several challenges in the current market, let me focus on three of them.

One of the major ones is the availability of environmental performance data to accurately report climate impacts of assets. This is especially prevalent in funds where the owners have in place so-called triple net or FRI leases. Under such a triple net lease, the tenant agrees to pay property expenses such as real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance – in addition to rent and utilities. For the tenant this means they have control over all their activity data. However, from a sustainability perspective, it also means that, unless there is a data clause in place, necessary information to measure greenhouse gas emissions are inaccessible. 

Another challenge we encounter frequently is fragmented data sources and no centralised storage of valuable ESG data. Gathering and processing all relevant data sources can therefore be incredibly time-consuming and often also creates confusion, especially when it comes to reporting and responsibility. But it’s not just the activity data, we face the same fragmentation and confusion when it comes to emission factors, which we need to convert data and calculate emissions. There are countless publications of emission factors that are of differing reliability, published irregularly, and even inaccurate sometimes. It takes considerable time to collect and process these varying emission factors and apply them to calculate carbon emissions in a  meaningful way.

The final, very common challenge I see in real estate is the confusing reporting landscape. The range of standards, varying scope and detail, can be mind-boggling. Global standards are changing rapidly – becoming deeper and more complex. This can be very difficult for the market to keep up with and adapt to. 

How does Etainabl come into play to help solve these challenges and realise this vision of sustainable real estate?

In my previous role I specialised in operational sustainability, data management and certification of real estate assets. I was always interested in sustainability data analysis and visualisations with a focus on utilising sustainability data to drive meaningful change to improve operational sustainability across a range of KPIs. However, I soon realised that the technology being utilised in the industry was far behind the times, with heavy reliance on manual collection of data, fragmented reporting, as well as manual input and interpretation. 

These experiences inspired us to create a platform that could effectively serve the market using a range of new technologies to help businesses gain clarity on their climate impact. Etainabl was founded in 2020 as a holistic, centralised, modern solution to manage ESG data points. Our ambition as a data-driven technology company is to assist businesses achieve a net-zero carbon future through the power of speedy, accurate data collection and insight.

We are currently a team of 4, but our solution already manages 1000’s of assets across the UK. This year, we aim to roll our platform out across Europe and eventually we want to be able to offer our service to a global audience. 

Zooming into the environmental component: What aspects do you look at to help your clients understand their environmental performance?

Real estate is responsible for around 38% of global CO₂ emissions. We need, want and can help address this!

Currently Etainabl considers environmental performance of an asset holistically, taking into account all operational emission sources that can have an impact on the planet. This includes all fugitive gases from air conditioning systems, backup diesel generators, electricity, heating, water, waste, and photovoltaic panels. This gives the user a full picture of an asset's impact and can be used to benchmark across the sector. It also allows the building manager to compare with other assets in a portfolio to help inform sustainability strategies that can have a real world impact based on meaningful, accurate data.

What does that look like in practice? Do people add information manually, do they simply upload invoices, or is there any form of automated monitoring?

Screenshots from Etainabl's platform illustrating carbon metrics.

The short answer would be: we cater to all of these options. However, in practice we use technology to try to remove the burden of manual data collection as much as possible.

This includes things like paper and digital invoice data extraction using AI to scan unorganised invoices and transform them into meaningful data. But you can also use live data connections to smart meters that allow for more powerful monitoring. Robotic fetching of data from supplier portals is another feature to stop the user having to manually download data. And we offer connections to third party APIs to reduce the manual data burden and potential of human error even further. We pride ourselves on levying technology and working with clients to pinpoint and extract key data points from within their organisation in the most streamlined way possible.  

What was the problem you were trying to solve when you found Climatiq? How did you find us, and how is solving that problem going? 

When we established Etainabl, the team was spending a significant amount of effort and time in sourcing emission factors for a range of categories in line with the GHG protocol. As mentioned before, searching and managing so many emission factors and keeping them up to date is a pretty common challenge and we were concerned that this could hamper our ability to scale the business. 

We were looking for a solution that could assist in managing this aspect of our platform and after many online searches and months of looking we scouted GitHub. We literally searched “Emission Factor API” and to our surprise one result came back: Climatiq. Turns out the Climatiq API provides exactly what we need and is so versatile that this has created a huge efficiency benefit for our software solution. Now, we no longer have to worry about updating emission factors, and we have found a like-minded partner.

What’s next, for you, carbon measurement, and sustainable real estate management?

Better informed climate action!

To me, all of these and more are interconnected. For Etainabl specifically, we will be widening our offering to cover all aspects of carbon measurement, not only those data points that are applicable to real estate assets. We are developing a full comprehensive corporate emissions assessment tool that covers scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. This way, organisations will be able to rely on our technology and expertise to run their entire environmental footprinting with us.

Over 2022 we will also be looking to implement automated reporting to levy the data collected into an end to end process. There are numerous reporting standards that all require similar data points. Traditionally, these data points are manually manipulated into different disclosure requirements, so we will be looking to create efficiencies for clients – addressing yet another one of the common challenges I mentioned before.