Green.org sat down with Michael Beckerman, CEO of CREtech, to learn about how he built a media company that is inspiring and educating thousands of professionals to develop a sustainable real estate industry.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
As the CEO of CREtech and CREtech Climate, I lead the largest global conference and media company devoted to technological innovation in the commercial real estate sector. CREtech’s newest initiative, CREtech Climate, aims to galvanize the real estate industry to reduce its carbon footprint throughout the entire Built World. In my past life, I spent 25 years in the public relations industry having built Beckerman Public Relations into the largest firm in the industry specializing in commercial real estate.
What would you do with $1 Billion dollars?
I’d give it all away to under-represented climate tech entrepreneurs as well as non-profits/research institutes focused on combating the climate crisis and also buy as much land to preserve as I possibly could! Given I obviously don’t have a billion dollars, my personal mission is to help anyone I can, speak to any group that will listen, and promote sustainability themes at my own tech conferences. My company has built the largest global audience (140k professionals) focused on technology in the Built Environment. Responsible for 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other industry on Earth, no other industry has as much to lose, but also as much to gain, than real estate does by embracing sustainability and investing in climate tech solutions.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Not addressing climate change now, both meaningfully and at scale, has the ability to adversely impact future generations. This keeps me up at night! And while the essence of climate change is broad, spanning all global economic industries, it is the real estate industry – to many, hidden in plain sight, which is simultaneously the world’s largest asset class but also the single largest contributor to climate change. I see climate change and sustainability largely intertwined in a symbiotic relationship – one that requires urgent nurturing to address the industry’s outsized C02 impact, responsible for nearly 40% of all global carbon emissions.
Sustainability in the built environment is gaining momentum on all fronts – awareness, action and implementation, albeit far too slowly. Carbon emissions emanating from the built environment are typically viewed through the prism of a bifurcated market – on the one hand, carbon from building operations, i.e. heating, lighting and cooling, accounting for roughly 28% of all carbon emissions, and on the other, the so-called ‘embodied carbon’ component, which is the upfront portion of emissions generated by construction, cement, glass, steel and other materials used to create buildings, collectively responsible for around 11% of all global carbon emissions.
Therefore, in my world, I’ve made it my personal and professional mission to decarbonize the real estate industry on both fronts. Sustainability practices have to become completely intertwined with real estate strategies. Indeed, all encompassing sustainability is even far broader than carbon emissions alone, intersecting waste and water sustainability too, as well as safe and healthy environments for people to both live and work. Given that government regulation, corporate occupiers and tenant demand as well as the impaired ability to finance, sell and/or lease “brown buildings” are significant trends that are now converging on the commercial real estate sector, embracing climate tech solutions in this industry is no longer a “nice to have”, but a “must have”! And it’s now proven that green buildings don’t simply command a premium in the marketplace, but the contra applies too – according to a recent RICS Sustainability Report, the “brown discount” has risen to 10%.
These are the things that give me great hope at a time where it’s hard to be optimistic given the speed at which the climate is transforming right in front of our very eyes.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Given the scale of what it will cost to decarbonize the built environment and knowing that spending on technology is also a matter of legal compliance as well as meeting tenant demand, I do believe that ClimateTech for the built environment will be magnitudes larger than the size of the PropTech market today. The decarbonization of the built environment represents the single greatest investment opportunity likely in history.
It is estimated to cost over $100T to decarbonize the global building stock – around $18T to retrofit existing buildings, and an additional $94T for resiliency and mitigation measures to protect our physical assets against the ravages of climate change. The biggest contribution will emanate from the tech sector. Innovation, and a conducive funding environment to support this nascent ecosystem, is what’s needed to slow the ravages of the climate crises with a great sense of urgency!
With the likes of the historic Inflation Reduction Act passed by the Biden Administration in 2023, of which around $50B is being funneled to spur investments into clean energy technologies and retrofits focused on the built environment, this will undoubtedly be a major growth catalyst that catapults the industry forward.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
I am and have always been a true believer that each and every one of us can make a difference. Get involved. Connect with someone. Attend a webinar. Share good content. Read to understand how buildings, the places where we spend around 90% of our time, impact the environment.
We need to mobilize an army of climate activists! Check if your local government or other authority offers incentives like tax credits, rebates or subsidies for upgrading the energy efficiency of your house and office. Take action – discuss with colleagues and family. Not only will these actions reduce the carbon emissions from the built environment, but they too could improve the health of indoor environments, directly impacting your productivity! Teach others and encourage them to do the same.
We also need more pioneering real estate developers and investors who don’t just talk about ESG as a priority, but actually turn their words and pledges into action, and put their money into technology that enables them not only to do better for the planet, but for better business too. Simply put in the words of the late great Harry Chaplin, “Do something!” Future generations are dependent on us who have the power today to make an impact.