Sustainable real estate development means designing and constructing spaces that are environmentally, socially, and economically responsible, resulting in a long-lasting built environment that is healthier for people and the planet.
In an era defined by unprecedented environmental challenges, it is imperative to reimagine real estate practices through the lens of sustainability. Current practices in the real estate industry are contributing significantly to climate change, which has far-reaching and detrimental impacts.
Currently, forty percent (40%) of global carbon emissions result from the real estate industry, and utilization of non-regenerative materials like steel and concrete are commonplace.
To counteract the negative effects of current industry practices, The Neutral Project utilizes mass timber as its primary structural material. Not only does mass timber have significantly less embodied carbon than traditional building materials, but it is also regenerative, sequesters carbon through its growth life, and promotes healthy forestry.
The Neutral Project also includes Passive House design principles to reduce operational carbon emissions, achieve greater energy efficiency, and more pleasant user experiences. Beyond reducing carbon associated with the built environment, The Neutral Project strives to create sustainable real estate by conserving resources and building for communities. Building for communities entails promoting walkability and other features that bring communities together socially and economically, along with an emphasis on individual comfort within each structure.
The built environment is responsible for approximately 40% of all carbon emissions globally, with 27% attributable to building operations and 13% to construction, as demonstrated below in Figure 1.1. When considering materials alone, steel, aluminum, and concrete together account for 23% of annual global emissions.1 This is significant because human activity in all facets, and especially in real estate, is resulting in climate change at an unprecedented scale.
Figure 1.1 - Global Carbon Emissions and Energy Usage
Carbon emissions contribute to global warming directly through the greenhouse effect, in which greenhouse gasses prevent heat from escaping Earth’s atmosphere. Excessive carbon emissions thus lead to an excessive heating of Earth’s atmosphere and surface, referred to as climate change. Climate change is considered to be the number one health threat facing humanity, as rising temperatures lead to increased drought, severe weather events, and the spread of disease.2
The materials used in real estate development are of utmost importance for several reasons. For one, every material used in construction– such as steel, concrete, drywall, or wood- has an associated carbon footprint. Some materials, like concrete and steel, have a significantly higher carbon content than others. However, organic materials like wood, if grown and harvested responsibly, can be easily regenerated and produce minimal environmental impact upon disposal.
Embodied carbon encompasses the entirety of carbon emissions throughout the construction process, from raw material extraction to transportation, manufacturing, and physical construction.
Conversely, operational carbon pertains to the carbon emissions stemming from the day-to-day activities of a building, including heating, cooling, electricity usage, and other building operational needs.
Our strategic use of mass timber as the primary building material is instrumental in reducing embodied carbon, as lumber procurement is significantly less carbon-intensive compared to cement or steel. Due to a process called photosynthesis, leaves pull in carbon dioxide and use the energy of the sun to convert this into chemical compounds such as sugars that feed the tree and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.3
Once you harvest the tree at the end of its growth life, between 40 and 60 years, and put it into a building with products like mass timber, then the building becomes, in essence, a carbon storage structure. This further curbs the carbon emissions associated with each building.
By leveraging these sustainable practices, we achieve a 27% reduction in embodied carbon compared to conventional concrete structures, which translates to a substantial decrease in kilograms of CO2 equivalence. A building’s embodied carbon emissions are quantified and categorized through a Life Cycle Assessment, a process that sums up all energy inputs and emission outputs of a product over its entire life cycle. See Figure 1.2 below for further description of a life cycle analysis.
The Neutral Project integrates Passive House principles into our designs, resulting in up to an 85% overall reduction in energy consumption. These principles encompass meticulous attention to detail, including top-notch insulation, airtight building envelopes, and mechanical ventilation systems equipped with heat recovery.
Thoughtfully selected building facade materials and insulation, along with the incorporation of photovoltaics,4 further contribute to the reduction of operational carbon emissions. Our developments ultimately undergo post-construction energy efficiency tests through the Passive House Institute that ensure the design translates into energy-efficient buildings.5
By embracing these principles, The Neutral Project achieves exceptional results, with energy reduction ranging from 50% to 85% compared to standard buildings.
Furthermore, our heating and cooling systems exhibit an astounding 90% reduction compared to conventional structures. These achievements are quantified using Energy Unit Intensity (EUI) metrics, which put a building’s energy usage into terms of energy used per square foot to account for differing building sizes.6 This allows us to showcase the substantial improvements we make in comparison to the emissions of typical buildings.
Figure 1.2 - Life Cycle Analysis
The Neutral Project adopts a practical and highly effective approach to water conservation. Our strategy focuses on the implementation of low-flow fixtures and fittings throughout the building to minimize human water consumption. We meticulously design and landscape the property, incorporating native and adaptive vegetation to mitigate outdoor water requirements.
These measures reduce stormwater and water waste outflows from the property while ensuring a more sustainable and efficient water resource utilization.
The foundation of mass timber construction lies in the sustainable management of forests and ensures the long-term economic and environmental well-being of the real estate industry. Supporting local communities reliant on forestry is vital for the preservation of our forests and the cultivation of symbiotic relationships among stakeholders.
Sustainable real estate is socially responsible, meaning it brings communities together and supports the prosperity of its inhabitants. Infrastructure plays a pivotal role in shaping our lives, leading to the prioritization of people over cars when developing communities.
America's inherited infrastructure is criticized for its car-centric focus, resulting in adverse health outcomes, missed economic opportunities, and a shortage of affordable housing. Investing in walkability creates more affordable and pedestrian-friendly environments with economic, physical, and mental health advantages for residents.
In addition, The Neutral Project offers e-bike, e-scooter, and electric car ride-share programs that make the devices available for residents to rent. These programs promote vehicle sharing, which has a smaller environmental impact than residents owning individual vehicles. Additionally, all of these vehicle options are electric, which minimizes the burning of fossil fuels and associated emissions.
The fundamental purpose of our buildings is to serve and enrich the communities they inhabit by offering spaces for living, working, and gathering. We emphasize the importance of creating inclusive environments that bring residents together, fostering stronger community bonds.
At The Neutral Project, we foster a comprehensive sense of well-being that encompasses mental, physical, and emotional health for all individuals who enter our buildings. We are dedicated to offering abundant opportunities to maintain residents’ physical health and are based in walkable areas that provide convenient access to a range of healthy amenities.
Our design philosophy prioritizes occupants’ mental and emotional well-being by creating spacious environments with natural light, adequate ventilation, and plentiful openness and breathability. The high-quality airflow in our buildings significantly enhances cognitive function and productivity.7 Elements such as exposed mass timber have a calming effect that measurably reduces occupants’ blood pressure, heart rates, and stress levels.8