The role of data in decarbonization

Unlocking data to reach ambitious net zero carbon goals

What’s the Point?

The built environment is responsible for nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions1, which is why meeting net zero carbon emissions goals requires decisive action from the commercial real estate (CRE) industry. Choosing the right actions and tracking progress rests primarily on having the right data. Major CRE operators, including Hines, are now creating global data models to provide a foundation for achieving their sustainability strategies.

Data drives sustainability insights

At the asset level, many owners and managers—including Hines—already capture data related to building efficiency and energy usage, since investors recognize that energy-efficient properties generally have lower operating costs and higher investment returns. However, the potential for data to drive decarbonization goes beyond monitoring building energy consumption alone.

Building systems create countless data streams that building owners and managers can collect, typically with the help of smart building management platforms. From occupancy and rent trends to energy usage and Indoor Air Quality, building data can be used to optimize operations, provide a competitive advantage in leasing and drive occupant satisfaction.

By harnessing the right data within an effective model, building data also can be used to better understand climate risks and decarbonization opportunities within a real estate portfolio. Through data-driven analyses, owners and investors can set achievable targets for each individual building, and credibly validate progress and success in real time.

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At Hines, for instance, the company’s ESG, Environmental Strategies, and Global Digital Strategy Office leadership teams are collaborating globally to implement a data management plan to track, manage and report on emissions at the property, portfolio, regional and firm-wide level. Progress to achieve net zero carbon will be tracked and disclosed through Hines’ annual ESG report, investment fund ESG reviews, investor or client reports and other channels.

“Our goal is to build an integrated and consistent data architecture from all assets and portfolios,” says Adam Hastings, chief data officer. “With that structure in place, we can deliver the right reporting—and make the best decarbonization decisions—for individual properties, regions and at scale.”

Leverage from a global data hub

To be effective, the underlying data set must be what Hastings calls “investment-grade” information—auditable, accurate, comprehensive and 100% credible. Hastings’ team is hard at work evolving their Global Data Hub, following Hines’ robust data governance processes, to collect, standardize and analyze carbon emissions data from across Hines’ property portfolios. The hub will ensure that data is consistent across locations to allow for benchmarking and high-quality reporting for investors, regulatory authorities and other audiences.

The hub will stream data to Hines’ proprietary Carbon Impact Assessment tool, which streamlines data collection, analysis, management and emissions reporting. When complete, the tool will help property teams visualize a decarbonization pathway for their properties.

The tool is designed to enable Hines properties to benchmark against a science-based pathway to net zero. Each property or portfolio is subject to an asset-specific, custom decarbonization plans encompassing a variety of tactics, including:

  • Reducing energy demand through operational efficiency
  • Increasing reliance on renewable energy
  • Utilizing circular systems to reduce energy waste and enhance system efficiency
  • Advancing carbon capture
  • Analyzing electrification impacts and removing fossil fuel use

The data-driven approach also helps to support informed investment decisions. The next phase of development will be to link the Carbon Impact Assessment tool to a Carbon Financial Model, providing the firm’s investment managers with analytics around the impact of various decarbonization plans not just on carbon reduction but also on impact to operating and capital expenses, carbon taxes, return premiums, and underwriting.

Challenges along the way

As if normalizing, aggregating, and consolidating data from thousands of major properties in 30 countries wasn’t difficult enough, Hastings identifies two major hurdles his team must overcome. “Part of our challenge is the variability of software platforms across our global portfolio,” he explains. The myriad systems employed regionally at Hines create roadblocks for standardized, centralized data collection and reporting.

The second major difficulty is accessing relevant information from third parties such as tenants, occupants, and end users. “Net zero efforts include all emissions from a building, not just emissions from building systems,” explains Hastings. “We absolutely need information about carbon emissions resulting from the activities of tenants, occupants and other end users—but that data is not always easy to collect.”

Motivated by a brighter future

Carbon's impact on climate—and the environmental and social cost of that impact—is one of the biggest challenges facing our industry. Nearly everyone is a stakeholder in the industry’s transition to net zero.

We aim to lead by dramatically reducing our buildings’ environmental impact, especially carbon emissions, resulting in a positive impact to our tenants, partners and the planet. We will continue to develop tools and processes that make decarbonization at the asset level easier and faster. We know that the insights we gain and the actions we take as a result of data analysis will determine our progress toward a brighter future.

To learn more about decarbonization at Hines, visit:

A Plan for Our Planet

1 As of 12/31/2020.