Q&A: How BTR can harness technology to reduce costs and improve ESG performance

BTR News spoke with Utopi's Head of BTR and Co-Living about the significant benefits ESG technology can have on the sector.

Utopi's Chris Martin, Head of Build to Rent and Co-Living | BTR News
Utopi's Chris Martin, Head of Build to Rent and Co-Living.

BTR News spoke with Chris Martin, Head of BTR and Co-Living at Utopi about the wider role of ESG technology in helping the Build to Rent and co-living sector reduce energy costs and improve ESG performance – as well as resident wellbeing.

The Build to Rent sector is uniquely positioned to deliver on ESG. How do you think the industry can leverage the latest technological innovations to enhance its ESG performance?

Technology can provide the Build to Rent industry with opportunities to enhance understanding of asset performance – bridging the gap between data and operational efficiency. This is an essential area to focus on, with net zero carbon on our sights.

To improve ESG performance, asset owners and operators need to first measure their ongoing performance and its impact on the climate to identify any gaps and opportunities for improvement. To track their impact, they can leverage the latest innovative technologies to collect real-time data related to light, noise, air quality, temperature, humidity and motion, which can provide a holistic view of their environmental footprint.

The industry can also deploy advanced sensors to provide residents access to vital wellbeing data, by collecting and feeding it into an application in real-time. These solutions can enable users to remotely control specific factors responsible for CO2 emissions – such as heating systems, air conditioning and energy consumption.

How do these innovative solutions benefit owners, operators and residents alike?

The saying ‘knowledge is power’ comes to mind here, but it really is true. With technology comes data, with data comes insights, and with insights comes understanding and changes in behaviours.

Real-time insights into energy consumption can allow Build to Rent owners, operators and their residents to identify and minimise unnecessary use of energy such as in communal or empty spaces. Reduced energy consumption further helps save significant costs on energy bills while improving overall wellbeing.

Owners can also improve overall ESG performance and reporting by using real-time data to achieve key benchmarks and asset-level certifications such as GRESB, BREEAM and Fitwel. This can significantly improve the asset value of their properties, making them more appealing to investors and residents alike.

Today, low-cost innovative solutions are available that do not put a financial strain on users. Since these solutions can be retrofitted into existing buildings, they allow flexibility on capital expenditures and operating expenses which means owners and operators of older buildings can still improve their ESG performance.

From a residents’ perspective, they can enjoy a better lifestyle with enhanced air quality levels and controlled temperatures. Real-time data can also help build fair use policies and provide transparency in billing models. With the likes of asset-level certifications such as Fitwel, they are strongly aligned with social value, ensuring the buildings they live in promote health and wellbeing.

What barriers do property developers face when adopting ESG technology in Build to Rent and co-living developments, and how can these challenges be effectively addressed?

There are many barriers facing developers such as cost, return on investment (ROI), perceived complexity and resident engagement. Traditional ESG solutions can be expensive and with the rising cost of living, these solutions tend to be a deterrent for developers. The lack of ROI knowledge is another reason developers hesitate to invest in ESG technology.

Other than costs, the perceived complexity of integrating and deploying ESG solutions is slowing developers from adopting ESG technology. Another barrier is resident engagement. It’s one thing to have the best ESG technology in an asset, but if residents don’t understand the importance of sustainable living, real value and change can be tough to achieve. It is crucial to educate residents on the latest solutions and ensure they know these innovative technologies are not using their data in untrustworthy ways – such as recording them or hindering their privacy. It is all for the benefit of the entire value chain.

Developers can lean on the latest low-cost solutions that clearly define anticipated ROI and are specifically designed to meet the needs of Build to Rent developers. In addition to being low-cost and aesthetically pleasing, modern solutions are scalable and easy to deploy.

Can you share examples of successful implementation of Utopi ESG technology in the Build to Rent and co-living sector?

Renowned names including Moda Living, Harrison Street Real Estate, Downing Group, Cassidy Group, and many more have benefited from Utopi’s ESG solutions. We’re currently managing ESG data across over £4bn worth of Build to Rent and co-living real estate in the UK and Europe alone.

We’ve used our ESG technology to analyse the potential for cost savings across a client’s European portfolio, focusing on energy usage. We found the potential savings of £800,000+ in a 200-day heating season if they reduced their average building temperatures to 20°C. Additionally, we’ve used IoT devices to understand how residents use communal spaces to enable clients to map out future designs for buildings.

One of our critical landmark projects in the UK is Compass by Torsion Group, where our solutions have helped them gain Fitwel Design Certification. It has been named the ‘Highest Scoring Multi-Family Development in the World’ by Fitwel, a great example of using ESG technology to enhance the living experience for residents.

As residents increasingly prioritise sustainable living, how can Build to Rent and co-living operators use ESG technology to differentiate their offerings and attract environmentally conscious residents?

Undoubtedly, residents are becoming increasingly conscious of sustainability and willing to pay more for properties with sustainable features. In fact, according to a survey, 80% of Gen Z and 78% of millennials would reject properties that did not meet minimum energy efficiency ratings.

Nowadays, when sustainability is a priority for individuals, Build to Rent and co-living operators can take advantage of state-of-the-art technologies to significantly enhance their environmental impact and improve the living experience of residents. Providing controlled temperatures, better air quality and natural light, operators can make the overall living experience healthy, and stand out from their competitors.

Sustainability is a shared responsibility. How can residents and owners/operators work together to drive sustainability in the Build to Rent industry?

Everyone should play their part in driving sustainability. When it comes to the Build to Rent industry, owners, operators and residents should adopt a collaborative approach towards sustainability. Green leases can be a great starting point as these include clauses focused on environmental responsibility. These clauses establish joint responsibilities between operators and residents in maintaining a sustainable living environment, thereby establishing a collaborative relationship.

Additionally, operators can establish a set of rules, standards, and best practices targeting mutually beneficial outcomes. It is essential to understand that neither the resident nor the owner/operator can single-handedly drive positive change. Instead, everyone must take responsibility and make significant changes in their day-to-day life, understanding that sustainability isn’t a one-time effort but an ongoing process.