Responding to Covid-19 – a real estate perspective
  • Opinion
  • 02 February 2021

Responding to Covid-19 – a real estate perspective

Containing Covid-19 is not just a challenge for the healthcare sector. Bed shortages in many healthcare facilities worldwide and countries grappling with second or third waves of viral outbreaks are a clear sign that we have to look for sustainable solutions. Keeping the pandemic in check requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response, involving astute policy-making and a sense of responsibility and cooperation in the community to observe regulations and guidelines.

What then is the role of the real estate industry in our collective response to Covid-19?

Among other things, Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of the environment, as well as social responsibility and good governance. The real estate industry has been prioritising the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into the entire value chain from design and construction to investment and asset management solutions.

Lockdowns and social distancing measures have forced many people to work from home. The decrease in commuting and use of office space and resources have led to an estimated drop of around 8% in the emission of greenhouse gases last year. Admittedly, that was arising more from an economic slowdown than positive action. But by forcing us to rethink the way we work and live, Covid-19 has shown us that reducing our carbon footprint is possible.

In such a context, real estate can respond affirmatively. According to the Urban Land Institute’s The Sustainability Outlook 2021 report, the buildings sector currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions globally and nearly 70 percent of emissions in urban areas. Active advocacy by the industry’s leadership can therefore make a substantial contribution towards a more sustainable world.

EDMUND TIE’s CEO, Ms Ong Choon Fah says: “Leadership plays an instrumental role at all levels of society from government to businesses and individuals, leading to a sustainable balance between growth and responsibility. We need to give ourselves, our children and their children a hope for the future.”

At the more immediate level, collaboration amongst developers, landlords, service providers and occupiers can go a long way towards making buildings more energy efficient and grid-effective.

As we head towards Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, we can look forward to smart technologies that make equipment more intelligent – and therefore more efficient. Occupants, on their part, can optimise operations and adopt practices that commit to recycling, reusing and reducing.

Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of ESG even as policy-makers focus on crisis management and redirect financial resources to support economies. According to American financial services firm Morningstar, sustainable funds in the US attracted over USD30 billion in net flows last year, far exceeding 2019’s USD21.4 billion. Amid a global crisis, appetite for ESG investing continues to soar, and JP Morgan Asset Management anticipates the pandemic to in fact “accelerate the ESG agenda”.

Apart from the environment, Covid-19 has also brought issues pertaining to health, well-being and social equity to the fore. Initially perceived as the “great leveler” that affects both rich and poor alike, the pandemic has aggravated existing structural inequalities.

Lockdowns and telecommuting assume that people have access to safe and secure housing to offer protection against the pandemic and support health and well-being over an extended period of time. This premise excludes those living in inadequate living quarters afflicted by overcrowding, lack of access to public services or poor design in general.

The role of the real estate sector here is in championing building design and urban planning targeted towards equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). For example, Kampung Admiralty, Singapore’s first “retirement kampung” in Woodlands, is an integrated facility that combines housing, healthcare and eldercare facilities with childcare, F&B and various retail services. Communal spaces there include a sheltered plaza for community activities like weekly fitness exercises, and a rooftop farm which both young and old can enjoy. Located beside Admiralty MRT station, it is an accessible and inclusive place that helps seniors age well in place, and makes a deliberate effort to maximise convenience for children and grandchildren visiting their elders.

“Incorporating health and social equity in building design and urban planning will help build stronger communities,” says Ms Ong.

“In times of crisis, real estate must contribute towards strengthening the social fabric, so that we can all make a concerted effort to fight the pandemic. We must constantly remind ourselves that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” she added.

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