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JLL, Concordia partner to create CRE decarbonization framework

$630,000 NSERC grant to fund 3-year project for commercial real estate buildings

Hugues Delmaire, head of JLL's Real Estate Futures Lab. (Courtesy JLL)
Hugues Delmaire, head of JLL's Real Estate Futures Lab. (Courtesy JLL)

Real estate and investment management company JLL and Concordia University have been awarded a $630,000 grant to establish a decarbonization framework for commercial buildings.

Bruno Lee, associate professor in building, civil and environmental engineering at Concordia, will partner with the JLL Real Estate Futures Lab in Montreal. Up to six PhD students will also join the project.

The funding, to be provided over three years, is from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“We launched the JLL Real Estate Futures Lab over a year ago, and the key goal all along has been to look into sustainability, how the CRE (commercial real estate) industry could actually transform and find new ways to (take up decarbonization), basically,” Hugues Delmaire, head of the lab, told SustainableBiz.

“The JLL Real Estate Futures Lab is tasked . . . to really work with the academic ecosystem, find projects that are interesting, find ways to help accelerate them and transform that in some concrete solution for the industry, for our clients and for the society in general.”

Headquartered in Chicago with Canadian operations based in Toronto, JLL (JLL-N) has an annual revenue of $20.9 billion, operations in over 80 countries and more than 103,000 employees.

The JLL-Concordia partnership

Conversations with Lee began last year, along with the application for the NSERC funding.

The project has three main objectives:

  • to develop an evaluation framework to assess the performance of decarbonization scenarios and prioritize deep carbon retrofit measures;
  • to develop a vital financial framework to support the deep carbon retrofit measures and ensure sustainable cash flows throughout the building operation;
  • to develop a long-term decarbonization framework to ensure decarbonization plans can adapt to and sustain uncertain and extreme conditions, such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and through climate change.

“Canada has over 480,000 commercial and institutional buildings including offices, retail stores and warehouses. They are the third-highest source of emissions in the country,” Lee said in a statement.

The project is at its early stages, so the form these frameworks will eventually take is still unknown. Delmaire speculated the possibility of creating several publications over the next three years.

Beyond technologies and finances, the project also aims to examine behaviours in the sector that may lead to progress on decarbonization.

“There's a lot of things that are upcoming in the industry. How do people actually behave post-COVID? How can you understand that change in behaviour? What are the implications on the use of buildings (and) on their decarbonization needs?” Delmaire said. “If I go more on the technical aspects, what are the upcoming technologies that actually can have an impact?

"So it's both a financial issue, it's a technical issue, but it's also a behaviour issue.”

Concordia's other decarbonization initiatives

The JLL partnership isn’t the only decarbonization project for Concordia in recent months. In May, an initiative called Electrifying Society: Towards Decarbonized Resilient Communities received the largest research award in Concordia’s history: $123 million over seven years from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

That venture will examine decarbonization via technologies like energy systems and storage, transportation and smart buildings, deployment of digital twin technology, cybersecurity and the Internet of Things.

The two projects are unrelated at this time, but Delmaire did not preclude collaboration at some point in the years to come.

The project could also increase in scale at some point, given the pressing need for decarbonization solutions. Delmaire also mentioned creating future iterations of the framework, beyond what the initial cohort of PhD students produces.

“At least in my mind, there is a clear need for scaling-up afterwards,” Delmaire said. “But again . . . it's early stage, we'll see how things evolve, and I might have much more to say about that within 12 and 18 months once we see how things develop.”

The university's own sustainability goals include achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.

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