The property market is definitely changing. Where architects and investors used to prioritise functionality, cost, efficiency, build time and style, now they increasingly prioritise sustainability. It’s part of a new way of looking at the built environment that gives weight to environmentalist concerns, taking a longer-term perspective on the way we live. For people interested in new green investment opportunities, it’s an exciting area to explore.
There has never been more ways to make eco-friendly investments than today, so what’s so special about property? Quite simply, it’s an area that has mass-market relevance and needs significant quantities of money to move forward. Ten years ago the solar power industry was in a similar position, needing investment in public projects to drive manufacturing so that prices would fall to the point where individual householders could start fitting their own solar systems. Today new technologies have made solar projects increasingly affordable so that most people can engage with them at some level, so for those who really want to help the planet; it’s worth looking at what’s next.
Sustainable property is a fast developing area and it’s in increasing demand; it’s likely to be several decades before supply comes close to matching demand. This means that investing in properties of this type now – whether they’re eco-friendly refurbishments of older buildings or carefully designed new builds – is liable to yield returns significantly above the market average over a prolonged period. By financing the greening of the property market, investors are helping to strengthen companies producing eco-friendly building materials, architects that specialise in sustainable design, etc. The money going into this sector right now can revolutionise the property market.
An evolving market
For a long time, eco-friendly homes were the preserve of the very well off, and even in recent years, they have only tended to be available to owner-occupiers, rarely appearing on the rental market. Many renters want to be environmentally friendly too, and in recent years letting agencies have increasingly been highlighting the green features of properties in order to attract them. There’s growing evidence that sustainable properties can attract higher monthly rents. This trend looks likely to grow stronger over time.
Outside the home rental market, the business rental market is increasingly motivated to seek out sustainable premises. Being based in an environmentally friendly location can do a lot for a business’ reputation, helping it attract investors of its own as well as extra customers. It can also help to impress regulators and government grant-awarding bodies.
In a third category, there’s the holiday rental market. Individuals who want to live in green homes – whether or not they already do so – also want to stay in eco-friendly places when they travel. Because holiday expenses are a one-off, they’ll pay a premium for the opportunity to do so.
Engaging with the market
Because this is a relatively new sector, it can be difficult to know how to get involved as an investor. Short of reading through endless company profiles and doing the research directly, there are two options. The first is to seek out an off-the-shelf green investment package that incorporates businesses of this type. This is getting easier as the overall volume of green packages increases. The second is to seek out an investment manager with a reputation for working in this field. Companies like Pierre & Vacances Property Investments specialise in constructing eco-friendly properties and managing them on behalf of investors. Pierre & Vacances are focused on holiday properties and are strong in overseas markets, but there are also investment management companies working in other parts of the sustainable property market, so investors can explore their options and decide on the strategy best suited to their financial priorities.
New building techniques
The single biggest priority most people have when it comes to sustainable living is energy efficiency, and this is an area which is constantly evolving. The move towards triple glazing in the UK, following the Scandinavian example, illustrates the way that scientific findings in relation to efficiency are influencing both refurbishments and new builds, but some experts now recommend sticking to double glazing on south-facing windows because this enables solar radiation to contribute more heat to the property than is lost as a result. There’s a growing focus on insulating foundations to stop heat being lost through concrete pilings, and the addition of radiant barriers in roof spaces is providing useful back-up for traditional loft insulation.
Water use and waste management are also significant concerns in this area and although it hasn’t advanced to the extent it has in dry areas of the US, the use of grey water is increasingly popular in the UK. It’s well suited to rural properties where there’s room to set up plant-based treatment systems.
Alongside these matters, there’s the issue of sourcing. Ultimately, a property is only as green as the materials it has been made from. It’s important to be able to trace these and get some background on the companies supplying them.
One further consideration is the expected lifetime of the final construction. The building process itself has a significant environmental impact, so truly sustainable properties should be exactly that – built to last.
New building regulations
The relationship between building regulations and actual sustainable building is a complex one. When it comes to insulation, for instance, eco-friendly construction companies aim to have wall R-values double those recommended in most building codes. Regulations are generally negotiated to ensure certain minimum standards and merely meeting them shouldn’t be taken as proof that a construction is as good as it ought to be. That said, they can act as a prompt to encourage more responsible building, and investors can give themselves some protection by researching a company’s regulatory history before getting closely involved.
Investment in sustainable building may sound complicated but it’s very worthwhile. Sometimes it takes that little bit of extra effort to try to make the world a better place. In this case, it can really get results.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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