Research

Does your building need a climate-ready passport?

London skyline

The built environment contributes 40% to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK, of which over 70% is driven by building operations. Over 85% of the buildings in use today will still be in use by 2050, so it is imperative that action is taken to understand how these buildings can be made more climate-ready. Retrofitting is costly and there is low awareness of the benefits of energy renovation and insufficient knowledge of what measures to implement and in which order. 

However, an even bigger challenge is to tackle the total GHG emissions used to produce a built asset, known as embodied (or capital) carbon. As urban growth continues and new buildings are erected, the contribution of embodied carbon is projected to double by 2050, making it urgent to address mitigation strategies in the design phase.

While some types of building passport exist, a climate-ready building passport could provide the means to capture and share data on a building’s life cycle (design, build, operation) and provide owners with a pathway to meet GHG reduction goals.

Various disparate tools exist that serve specific needs, but there is a wide gap between current data availability, its formats, discoverability and useability and a fully functioning, transparent, interoperable and scalable system that could capture the diverse requirements of potential users. In other words, there are many barriers that prevent stakeholders accessing the data they need that could help to reduce the GHG emissions of a building.  

The creation of a digital “building passport” could enable a variety of stakeholders to discover and share appropriate data in a secure environment, underpinned by robust standards for data sharing, allowing for real-time reporting to enhance risk analysis that would in turn incentivise climate-ready behaviours and allow for the development of innovative insurance products. There is an urgent need to collaboratively develop the shared data infrastructure where multiple use cases for digital building passports can help incentivise net-zero behaviours.

Icebreaker One is actively looking for feedback on the idea of climate-ready building passports. We’re currently consulting with industry, and building Advisory Groups to meet this Spring. The Advisory Groups will explore the idea and provide a forum for discussion to ensure this product meets user needs.

To share feedback or express your interest in joining the Advisory Groups, fill out this short form.

What is a building passport?

A building passport is a tool to capture appropriate data in a digital format that could be useful to building owners, occupiers and those that have responsibility for monitoring and reporting on a building’s performance. The idea of a building passport is not new. Indeed, the European Union through the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy is providing technical support to investigate the feasibility of introducing optional building renovation passports (BRP) in the EU. Following Article 19a of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the relevance, feasibility and potential impact of BRPs was studied and the results showed that there is low awareness of the benefits of energy renovation and insufficient knowledge of what measures to implement and in which order.

Existing building passports are able to store historical information about the design, construction and fitting out of a structure that could be made available on demand to restricted users, such as the fire services. The desire for safer built environments has been the impetus for the creation of organisations like Building Passport. For example, in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and subsequent Inquiry and Phase 1 report, a vital use case for building passports is making floor plans and information that could exacerbate fire risk instantly available to rescue services. 

A climate-ready building passport could go further than providing specific information to rescue services. To enable the widest possible adoption, the concept needs to be enabled by a standards-based approach to data sharing. The Standard for Environment, Risk and Insurance (SERI) is looking to develop open standards to enable insurers to access shared environmental, financial and risk data across organisations and silos. Capturing additional environmental data will provide incentives that could support more meaningful actions to reduce GHG emissions and so underpin net-zero goals.

There are several other uses of the climate-ready building passport that could provide credible reasons for all stakeholders to collectively agree on a shared data infrastructure to support more comprehensive access to information about a building, in a secure environment with the appropriate governance structure in place. For example, the rich data captured in Building Information Modelling (BIM) does not get shared as exposure input data used in risk assessments or the catastrophe modelling process used in insurance pricing. Data standards could assist asset owners where there is no normalised process for capturing and reporting climate-related disclosures, which will soon become mandatory.

How would the data be used?

Creating a digital building passport would open up a wealth of opportunities, but it does pose an expanding hierarchy of questions depending on the user. To narrow the scope, key questions need to be answered from each stakeholder:


– What are you trying to do?
– What data are you using to do it?
– What data do you need?
– What data elements are missing?
– What data formats are missing?
– What data do you not have access to?
– Would a digital passport be the right tool to capture open / shared data?

For SERI, our goal is to encourage the development of innovative insurance products that incentivise carbon net-zero behaviours. Insurers use a wide range of data inputs to assist in pricing decisions and risk management. This data is captured from individual buildings and residential properties, through to massive schedules of information from corporate buyers (such as hotel or fast food chains). None of this data is currently structured to be captured and shared easily.

While third-party catastrophe model vendors are beginning to make their proprietary standards open, and open exposure data standards exist through the work of platforms like Oasis Loss Modelling Framework, the data that is captured is limited. Data on age, construction, number of stories together with primary modifiers like occupancy and location are supplemented by secondary modifiers such as construction quality and cladding. This data is mostly captured in spreadsheets, CSV formats or worse in PDF files. The industry is looking at new tools that could capture additional data elements leveraging more scalable software solutions such as JSON. This allows for a more powerful ability to capture hierarchical and relational data. For example, for buildings this could include:

–> Physical characteristics including its structure, orientation, materials, locations, neighbourhood
–> Use and building performance characteristics including occupancy, services & utilities, critical dependencies
–> Legal and financial characteristics – owners, portfolio relationships, leases

How to get involved!

We believe that there is an opportunity to leverage the work that was originally achieved for Open Banking, and now being used for Open Energy and help crystalise a “Shared Data Infrastructure” that could provide utility for many downstream activities.

Icebreaker One is looking for representatives from diverse organisations that are involved either in the supply or use of data to assist in developing a use case for creating a shared data infrastructure that is aligned with the goals of SERI.

We’re currently building Advisory Groups that will meet over the next few months to do this. Being part of an Advisory Group means meeting occasionally with other sector leaders, and providing insight and feedback on what Climate-Ready Building Passports could be most valuable.

To share feedback or express your interest in joining the Advisory Groups, fill out this short form. Alternatively, write to seri@icebreakerone.org.

Meanwhile, join Icebreaker One here and help us deliver a net-zero future!

Photo credit: City of London Skyline by Trine Syvertsen CC by 2.0