Innovating Cleantech Solutions for Real Estate with Ramya Ravichandar of JLL

April 24, 2024

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Ramya Ravichandar is the Vice President of Technology Platforms for Smart & Sustainable Buildings at JLL. She is responsible for building, creating and scaling disruptive cleantech products and solutions at JLL to deliver technology products that help meet clients’ sustainability goals.

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John Shegerian: Get the latest Impact Podcast right into your inbox each week. Subscribe by entering your email address at to make sure you never miss an interview. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited to have with us today Ramya Ramya Ravichandar. She’s the Vice President of Technology Platforms and Smart and Sustainable Buildings at JLL. Welcome, Ramya, to the Impact Podcast.

Ramya Ravichandar: Thanks, John. Such a pleasure to be here.

John: Well, it’s an honor to have you. We’ve never had a company like JLL or JLL on the podcast before, so this is going to be a great show. I know you have a lot to say, but before we get going into everything that you’re doing and all the impact work you’re doing at JLL with your colleagues, I’d first like to learn a little bit about you. Where do you grow up? And how did you get on this fascinating journey that you’re on?

Ramya: Well, John, I grew up in South India and I came to the United States for my grad school, so I have a PhD in computer science from Virginia Tech. As part of my dissertation, it was all about how do you design really large complex technological systems that can be future-proofed. I think in some ways I was trying to play God because to be able to design something that’s future-proof is going to be really hard, but I did try, and that got me into a journey in the valley. So I worked for Cisco for a couple of years, and that’s where I got my taste of IoT because I was heading as a product manager for their streaming analytics engine acquisition. That just opened up this whole world of edge computing and AI, and I started dabbling in it so much that the startup bug bit me. So I jumped into a startup that was doing exactly the same thing, and I was there, I guess, number 10 employee, the first product hire. So it was fun, taking spaghetti code and creating a portfolio of products, but all through this journey, the one singular thread has been trying to develop sustainability solutions. How do you really create a much greener world through technology? So that startup was acquired by JCI. It’s part of their open blue ecosystem today, and now I’m with JLL leading all of their sustainability and smart building technology platform.

John: When did you join JLL?

Ramya: About three years ago now.

John: Three years ago. Got it. Just in the middle of… The pandemic already had started.

Ramya: Yes. I am a pandemic hire and I’ll tell you JLL is a very Global organization, right? It stands for Jones Lang LaSalle. For those of you are not familiar with JLL, we are the world’s leading commercial real estate services provider. So what does that mean? Right?

John: Yeah, what does that mean?

Ramya: We do everything from property management, facilities management, leasing, brokerage, technology advisory, project development. We meet our clients where they are in their commercial real estate journey. Fun fact, we’re over 250 years old. It blew my mind when I learned that. So we’re in over 80 countries, 100,000 employees. I’ll tell you a little story about the division I joined in trade. So I’m a pandemic hire, but we are a technology division, and what that means is they brought in some of the key valley talent in technology, pulled them together with world-class real estate experts, and said, “Go figure how do you make technology a part of our DNA? How do you really embed this in every service in every business line?” This was a brainchild of Christian Ulbrich before the pandemic because he obviously saw the innovation that was being driven through all of these upcoming technology solutions. So here we are, one of the fastest-growing divisions within JLL.

John: It’s so fascinating, the mix between technology sustainability in real estate. We’ve never covered that before, really, I mean in the way we’re going to cover today. So I’m so excited, and how many… You said over a hundred thousand employees around in 80 countries around the world?

Ramya: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

John: Fascinating. Where’s the headquarters for JLL?

Ramya: Well, we are headquartered in Chicago in the US. Our CEO sits in Europe, in Berlin. So we’re very geographically spread out, and that’s been an interesting journey. When you think about it, it’s a real estate organization, and you have a technology division, and you have this globally diverse employee set, and we have a pretty phenomenal culture. I’ll have to say, and it’s something you don’t realize till you actually join the company, but that’s something that I… I still remember one of the first questions I asked my CEO when I was interviewing, and our CEO’s, Mihir Shah[?], they lead the technologies division, and I asked him, “What are our values?” And without batting an eyelid, they came up with all the values, like, “Be direct, create wow.” and I’m going, “Yes, this is the answer I want because this is the company I want to work for. When you know your values and you know them right off the bat.”

John: You know, Ramya? I have to say that in 17 years of doing this podcast, I don’t remember another company that’s come on the show, that’s been represented on the show that has 250 years of history that itself speaks to JLL’s culture. That’s tremendous. I didn’t realize JLL had that much history. That’s fascinating.

Ramya: Yeah.

John: Let’s get into it, sustainability tech. I mean, obviously, we turn on televisions now or, our podcasts, and everyone’s talking about AI and technology and the boom that’s coming in in robotics and automation. Talk a little bit about how sustainability tech can help decarbonize real estate and what’s that interconnection there. What’s the convergence?

Ramya: Yeah. Real estate contributes to over 40% of our emissions.

John: Really? Explain. Elaborate a little bit.

Ramya: So we have… Take a building, we consume energy, right? And think commercial real estate, so office spaces, malls, factories, warehouses, the energy that they consume contributes to the operational component of it. Studies show that over 30% of that energy is actually wasted. So there’s an opportunity for us to actually reduce the energy that’s wasted and optimize how we use it more efficiently. So this is where technology starts coming into play. It starts, if you use technology to first baseline, how am I doing as a building? Am I being as efficient as I can be? But how do you even make that judgment call without understanding the baseline stats? How much energy are you consuming? Where are you consuming that energy? Is it really effective when you have no one in the building and your building is all lit up? How do you get that data point? So this is where technology comes in because you’re using sensors. You’re reading data from the building management systems. You’re creating these dashboards that start giving the facilities teams a view. That gives us sustainability experts an understanding of, “Oh, look at the consumption patterns. If we are actually able to report this out and then have a target to reduce it by, say, X percentage, we’re going to reduce our emissions because at the end of the day, what is it? It is about reducing the amount of CO2 out there.” So it’s scope one, scope two, and scope three, right? You want to reduce the amount of energy you consume and therefore you have a direct impact on the number of emission factors.

John: Once you get the baseline and you put the sensors in and everything else, how then do you help close that gap of that delta, like you’re saying 30% energy waste? How do you close that delta?

Ramya: Yeah, it’s a great question because I think a lot of our focus has been around reporting and disclosures, right? It’s the first step, but then you want to act on it, and there are a number of different ways to take actions, but I feel like we’ve been running against deadlines, and now we’re in this crunch, more like, “Oh gosh, it’s 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have to go and start getting real about doing something.” So that is why we’ve actually gone in and invested in technologies that show real-time ROI in terms of cutting down those emissions. So we’ve been making acquisitions for the last couple of years. One of the acquisitions we made about two years ago was an AI-driven HVAC optimization technology. So fundamentally what it does is you install it in your building. It reads all the data points. It gets a sense for occupancy, and then it starts mapping out the most efficient way to distribute the energy consumption by managing your HVAC. That’s your heating, your ventilation, and your cooling systems. So if I know that it’s going to be a really hot day outside and my building needs to start getting cool from, say, 7:00 a.m. because that’s my opening time for the office, I can rejig the start schedules. Rather than setting a set start schedule, the algorithm determines based on weather conditions, based on occupancy, it’s dynamic. The building is now changing on a day-to-day basis based on dynamic conditions, which I think is fascinating because all this time we’re going, “Oh, open it up at 5:00 a.m., turn the switches on, power up the motors.” We don’t need to do that because that’s wasted energy. The other view is, if you have zero occupancy on a certain number of floors, why do you have those units on? So these are all just small but very effective changes to cut down the energy wasted and also make effective use of how we use lighting, use heating, and the other systems that we have.

John: 15 or 20 years ago when CEOs of a company or leaders of a company heard the word sustainability it automatically equated to them spending more money. Now what you’re saying is there’s a compelling reason. You’re taking the technology and you’re able to show an ROI to a building owner or a manager and say you’re actually going to now be more sustainable, but you’re actually going to save money and help decarbonize the planet as well. Is that the proposition really that’s now in front of us?

Ramya: Well, it’s do good, but also do well. JLL actually had a survey out there for all of our corporate occupiers. We asked them, just sustainability and technology, does it have an impact on the decisions that you made? 85% of them came back and said, “Yes, it’s one of the top priorities we use to make decisions about renewing the lease or getting into a new contract with another tenant space.” And this generation, if you go and ask someone to rent a building or lease a building which is not green or doesn’t have a pathway to become net zero, how do you think that’s going to work out for your workforce?

John: Not well.

Ramya: And the other thing is the green buildings, they have a higher premium. The rental premium is about 7% higher. They have much lower vacancy rates, so it’s not all about just reducing emissions. This is really good economics.

John: What percentage of your application of this technology that your team is working on and is now putting into buildings, what percentage is used for new buildings, and what percentage is used for retrofits? Is retrofit the bigger opportunity, and has it become easier to sell it or is it hard to sell this, even though there’s a compelling ROI? Is it still hard to pitch and sell the use of this kind of great technology that your team has created for a retrofit in a building?

Ramya: Yeah, great question. The building that you don’t build is the greenest building, right? So you don’t want to reuse your existing building stock. When you reduce energy, and I know you’re in LA, despite your [inaudible] your utility rates are out there, so every percentage point that you save, is savings that comes back to you, right? Your NOI increases at the end of the day. So owners are now hungry for technologies that help them realize those savings. Sustainability could be an outcome of it, but at the end of the day, it’s just good math. So we are seeing opportunities in both spaces. When you go into the older buildings, retrofitting them with these technologies gives them a sense for where do I better invest my capital? In terms of upgrading my systems, like, what is the longevity of my existing infrastructure? You start getting those deeper insights because now you have that audit trail, you have all of the data points that you need. It’s less about just coming up with a disclosure or a report out to some regulation body. It’s also about looking at it from a more holistic view. Look at my portfolio of buildings. If I’m an owner and I have a portfolio that’s global, I can make decisions now based on what data I see from each building. One of my philosophies is every sustainable building has to be a smart building. If you’re not smart and what I mean by smart is if you don’t have avenues to get all the data out of that building, there’s very little change you can affect. So there is a huge opportunity that we’re seeing with existing building stock owners who want to implement these technologies because they are seeing the savings come back to their pockets. Now, new building construction is interesting because I think when you go back to this whole topic of emissions, you have operational efficiencies and then you have embodied carbon, right? It’s the construction material, steel and concrete. They obviously are there on the higher emission side. The newer buildings are now being designed with much more sustainable materials, and that’s how I think all the advances we make with material science become interesting. I don’t know if you read this book by Suleyman, he’s a co-founder of DeepMind and he’s written this book called, “The Coming Wave,” and he talks about two technologies that are just going to transform this current century. One is AI and I think we’ve touched on that a bit, and the other is synthetic biology, and I’m going synthetic biology, how is that going to change real estate? It’s interesting because it’s essentially you take engineering principles and you overlay on biology and create new biological systems, and they’re like, what if you can create more programmable microbes that you insert into materials and they have self-healing building materials? So you have a crack, let’s say you have a capsule with I don’t know bacteria inside it reacts over time and then creates it. It kind of fills in the holes with self-healing materials. I was fascinated. I was going okay, so maybe there’s a path to reducing operational carbon for new construction because if you can embed every material out there with these newer waves of innovation, I think we can address both emission sources.

John: Ramya, it sounds like that’s like stem cells for buildings. I mean, when you’re building them… When it comes to the application of your sustainability tech to material sciences, do you have technology applications that can apply also to material sciences so you can use AI and other technological innovations that you have that can help direct how to build the building to be the most green building possible, in terms of what materials to use, and how to use them based on the latest technologies interrelated with the material sciences that are needed for the building?

Ramya: Yeah, I think this is where the intersection of the two disciplines is going to get very fascinating. I think we’re making initial inroads into that, right? We have a number of companies out there that even help you source materials from green vendors. They give you a sense for, if you had this type of a design and this type of construction, your emission level would look like this. One of the things that we do at JLL is we also have a venture capital arm called JLL Spark. This started out in, I want to say, 2018, and we’ve invested about $385 million in about 45 companies, and we do that with a lens on encouraging these types of innovative solutions. So if you look at our portfolio list of companies, we have everything from construction company down to products that help the environment. Without naming too many names, you can go up and look at JLL Spark, right? The idea is you take the solutions, even though they might be in early stage, and you funnel them through our various business lines. So we’re only beginning to help our clients get introduced to these technologies. So to your point earlier, there is definitely software out there, there’s technology solutions out there that guide you through the construction process. Alice is an example of a company that we invested in. In terms of actual material science, there’s a ton happening. There’s a ton emerging out there. I think they get tied in through this vendor relationship that we have.

John: Right. For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Ramya Ravichandar with us today. She’s the vice president, Technology Platform Smart and Sustainable Buildings at JLL. To find Ramya and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in sustainability and smart buildings, go to Ramya, we were talking a little bit earlier that you’re a pandemic hire at JLL, and you and I both know that the world has changed measurably since the pandemic in terms of remote workforces. It would seem to me or it would be logical to me that your technology is even more valuable now post-pandemic because with more remote workers, buildings have to get smarter and smarter to be able to be greener and greener. Has the remote workforce trend post-pandemic made what you and your colleagues have created and are managing and working into buildings even more valuable?

Ramya: Absolutely. I think the value of a smart building really shot up during the pandemic because nobody wanted to go into the workplace, yet somebody had to manage those systems. Now because we’d instrumented all of these systems with technology and sensors, we were able to remotely manage them, right? I could turn off all of the lighting and heating because I knew no one was coming in that day. Now it becomes interesting because we’re getting into this world of hybrid work-play-live mode, and to be able to get real-time data becomes very key because you want to know the number of occupants at any given point in the day. So you can adjust your systems dynamically. It’s no longer a static number. You’re not forcing your entire workforce to come in. They have the flexibility to show up on different days of a week. Yet you have to keep your buildings running efficiently maintaining tenant comfort, which is always our number one priority. So, how do you drive that? So you’re working with many different vectors and optimizing it, which is why the AI-driven optimization technologies that we have become so very effective.

John: How hard, in terms of hurdles that you and your colleagues face when you’re trying to create real-time data analysis? How hard is that? Is it something you’ve already achieved or something you’re still working on and trying to perfect?

Ramya: Oh, it is an industry problem. I will not lie here. It is hard to get clean data out of the buildings and remember, these buildings are decades old, and you had many different personalities come around and program these with very different names and labels. All of that needs to get interpreted down to mapping it to the specific zone and the assets. So there is a whole movement behind this to clean the data that comes from the building, but I think once you do that heavy lifting, the rewards are very gratifying because you’re able to get it into an engine of change and actioning that gives you the results in terms of both efficiencies and also reducing your emissions. Data has always been a big part of what we do at JLL, and that goes back to what we’ve done, is foundationally identify the right technologies, the right building blocks. So we’re able to deliver to our clients the entire tech stack. So yeah, the answer to your question is it’s a hard problem. It’s a hard problem, and funnily enough, we’re going to lean on AI to solve a large part of it. Self-learning systems.

John: Ramya, when the general public hears the terminology of AI and AI automation, they immediately think of job displacement. They think, “Ah, we’re all going to be replaced by robots, and the world is coming to an end.” How does your technology ensure or work towards the goal of positive outcomes where workers don’t get displaced, but the technology greatly improves, the buildings become much greener, and we get to decarbonize the planet without putting millions of people out on the streets unemployed?

Ramya: This is a hot topic. I’ll tell you my take on it. I think it’s humans; we all have an elevated purpose. What AI is doing is it’s automating a lot of the mundane tasks that you shouldn’t have been doing anyway, right? I’ll give you an example. Back in the day, we built a solution for the oil and gas industry, and this was… I don’t know if you’ve… They have these flare stacks in refineries. The first tag is supposed to burn off the excess product that’s a result of processing natural gas, but they have to do it within a certain time. They have to burn off specific gases, and the challenge is you have to follow the EPA regulations that are set for it. So when we first went and did a site survey, the way it was being monitored was this one guy stared at the flare stack manually and then report out if there was an anomaly, and I’m going, “Nowhere in his, I guess, career did he ever think he was going to end up staring for 8 hours at a flare stack. That’s an example of, you can build a neural net on a really small edge compute device, get the video images, just trigger the alarm, and then let the person take over based on what the alarm looks like. It’s very similar to that, right? When a technology first comes out, it’s everywhere because you’re worried and it’s dangerous and, oh my God, it could take over my job, but slowly, it becomes invisible because it becomes part of your day-to-day and you don’t even realize it, right? Whether it’s internet or your phone. I mean, look at my phone, I think there’s an app for everything. I don’t really translate it to, oh, there’s a phone, there’s an app store, and so forth. I just assume. Similarly, with AI and buildings, we see them as being assistants to our facilities team, right? We don’t want you to sit and stare at dashboards and try and interpret a field of data points. You should be making connections with your tenants. You should be identifying what other human needs need to get resolved because you’re going to get a call through your system if there is an issue that you need to be involved in. I mean, we have to build systems in such a way that there’s a lot of automation already in place. That’s Nirvana, right? You only get called if you’re needed, and you should be needed only for the most highest of tasks.

John: Right. I agree with you. I’m not afraid. I think AI like you said, has a wonderful place to get rid of tasks that should never have been humanized anyway, and technology could take those over, and the humans can go do things that are, as you said, have a much higher purpose. I think that’s such an elegant way of putting it, and I hope you’re right for all of our sakes, by the way. I think that’s great. You’re working on, so many cool things and I know how technology people are. I’ve gotten to work with technology people most of my adult life. Share a little bit about what you’re excited about coming next, what’s coming next in sustainability tech that will make bigger impacts in ’24 but even beyond, 2024 years ahead of us.

Ramya: Yeah, I think we touched a little bit on it, right? I think it’s the intersection of AI with our day-to-day. I also see a world where maybe we do away with dashboards completely. You know, you’re no longer glued to your screen. I mean, there are some new releases out there that look very interesting where your building is something you have a conversation with. “Hey, I’m feeling too hot. Can you just turn on the air conditioning?” And there’s a very precision control that’s in place that helps you personalize your space, right? So I see a world where… Let’s back up a bit, right? So where people are using our LLMs for creating code now, it’s prompt engineering is huge. We’re beginning to change the way we interact with systems, and I see buildings all the same way. You’re interacting with the building. The building is now dynamic. It’s responding to your needs, responding to the larger occupants who are out there. That is enabled by many hidden technologies, and when you don’t explicitly call out a technology, I think that’s when we’ve won because it’s so embedded. It’s so ingrained. You don’t realize it’s being powered by tons and tons of systems behind the scenes. Is there one technology I’m excited about? Definitely, the microbes in the cement got me thinking. Oh, they got [crosstalk].

John: I like that.

Ramya: That’ll be huge.

John: You said it, the convergence of AI and material sciences. That’s fascinating. I love it. You’ve been there now 3 years or so. What achievements are you the most proud of that your team has achieved so far?

Ramya: I love that we’ve actually put a lot of the building blocks in place. I will do a shout-out for one of our products which came out from a hackathon. We run hackathons at JLL. It’s a very tech-centric idea, but we brought it into JLL. We had so many different participants. This year’s team was all about Gen AI. It was mind-blowing to see all kinds of ideas, but 2 years ago when we ran the hackathon, it was around sustainability. There was one product that actually won the competition. It was about how you really decarbonize your real estate portfolio with a view of getting to a specific net-zero goal. Like what levers will you pull, like it’s a capital planning scenario. I’m so proud to say that that product today was actually identified as the next big thing in tech by Fast Company. So to take a product from hackathon idea to actually making it generally available and being used by some of the largest clients, I think is a proud moment for the team for sure.

John: I love it. You know when it comes to real estate, Ramya, people talk about value. Value of the property, value the property today, how much it used to be worth years ago, how much it’s gone up in value, and what it’s gonna be worth in the future. What does sustainability tech look like with regard to the convergence of AI, value of property, climate change, the shifting population basis, and the shifting climate changes that we’re all undergoing? So if we parse out the climate is changing and the weather patterns are changing and also our population bases are shifting and migrating in different directions. Is there technology that’s going to be able to do predictive analytics on the future value of properties? Where to build, where to invest in the future based upon populations growing or receding, and also climate affecting the area for the future valuation of a real estate investment?

Ramya: Oh John, you’re absolutely spot-on. You touch on so many different themes that feed into valuation of properties, right? Most properties at least in the residential space is the comp value. It was your neighbor’s pricing and so forth. I think now with commercial real estate, sustainability is a very real driver. I think it’s 56% of the world’s population lives in a city today, and I think that number is going to go up to 70% in 2050. How are we going to address that massive migration to cities, right? That means the valuation of real estate there definitely have very different drivers from maybe what is more inland and there are companies out there that specifically talk about climate risk as it pertains to your real estate portfolio. So that is a huge data point that you factor in. Miami, any of the coastal cities that you take look at the flood zones, right? Insurance is now at a premium in a lot of those cities, especially in our sunshine city…

John: New Orleans, another one. Yeah, you’re absolute… So is JLL involved with that kind of sustainability tech in terms of future valuation based on climate risks and population migrations, et cetera?

Ramya: Absolutely. Yeah, and that’s part of our long-term strategy, right? So we’ve been embedding this technology not just in property management and our facilities management, but it runs through our valuation modeling, runs through our capital markets teams. So we’ve been embedding all of these data points to better serve our clients in terms of what’s really out there, and it’s not based on laggard indicators anymore, right? It’s very future-looking because we literally have to follow the sun on this one.

John: Ramya, I’m gonna leave it for you for some last words of wisdom and hope before we have to say goodbye for today.

Ramya: Well, I’ll pick on the name of your podcast, Impact Podcast. Maybe just a shout-out, great. For me, impact isn’t just one big bang and I think everyone out there can define impact as a series of actions you take, the changes you make, the decisions you embrace. Hopefully, a North Star that’s guiding you is making this world a slightly better place. So, work your way through an army of one is still powerful, think Creighton[?] Burke, think Malala. There’s a lot we can do so I’ll leave you with that.

John: Well, I love it and you’re doing a lot with your colleagues, a lot you’re already doing. For our listeners and viewers to find Ramya and her colleagues at JLL, please go to Ramya, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for your time today on the Impact Podcast but even more importantly thank you for what you and your colleagues are doing at JLL to make the world a more sustainable and better place.

Ramya: Thank you, John. This is such a wonderful conversation.

John: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today visit This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit