A Climate Change Solution All Around Us: Net Zero Carbon Buildings

Green construction in the U.S. is projected to generate $303.5 billion in GDP, 3.3 million jobs, and $190.3 billion in labour earnings between 2015-2018.

By Terri Wills

As the United States witnesses record-breaking rainfall by Hurricane Harvey and Mumbai is submerged in catastrophic floods, we are reminded of the impact of climate change on worsening extreme weather patterns across the globe.

A new draft report by experts and scientists from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), NASA and National Science Foundation, finds that (as previous studies have) that climate models generally show that a “warmer world” leads to an increase in the intensity of hurricanes, as well as an increase in the frequency of “very intense” hurricanes.

With these implications, it is critical, now more than ever, that these findings be taken seriously, and spur corporations, governments and individuals into action.

The signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 was rightly hailed as an historic moment in the fight against climate change, as world leaders pledged to keep global temperature rises under 2 degrees Celsius.

The solution is all around us

A key part of making that promise a reality, is all around us – in the floors, walls and rooftops that protect our way of life.

Buildings are responsible for around 30 percent of global energy consumption, 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, on average, a massive 50 percent of all emissions in major cities.

That’s why, along with international experts, the World Green Building Council is calling on governments, businesses and individuals to commit to ensuring that every single building produces no carbon emissions by 2050 – a future of net zero buildings.

Our hero is zero

Net zero carbon buildings are highly energy-efficient buildings that operate on renewable energy, that’s produced on-site or off-site, to achieve net zero carbon emissions annually in operation. In order to meet the ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement, all new buildings must operate at net zero carbon by 2030 and 100 percent of buildings must operate at net zero carbon by 2050.

Taking action on our homes, offices, factories, and schools remains among the cheapest and easiest means of reducing global emissions.

What can we do?

  1. Investors can divest from fossil fuel-emitting buildings and reinvest in net zero ones.
  2. Property developers, owners and managers can build, own, and operate only net zero carbon buildings.
  3. Businesses can rent net zero properties, and the lowest carbon properties available in their markets, as soon as possible. They can also set and disclose corporate policies with a target by when they will only occupy only net zero carbon properties.
  4. Governments can commit to reducing the emissions of public and private sector buildings by developing and enforcing regulations and committing to occupy only certified net zero buildings (check out these business and government case studies to learn more).
  5. Individuals can learn more about the need for net zero buildings, educate their friends and colleagues, and take the lead on bringing more net zero buildings to their communities. World Green Building Week (September 25-October 1) is the perfect time to get involved (learn how).

Green buildings are key to combatting climate change, but they also reduce building costs and make communities stronger and healthier.

Building a Net Zero Future

The Mineirão Football stadium in Brazil, with its 6,000 solar panels, generates an astonishing 90 percent energy surplus that’s redistributed to local communities. The Maison Ile de France student residence outside Paris features a fully natural ventilation system, as well as technology that allows residents to chart their energy consumption in real time. And in the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, 92 percent of the building is naturally daylit, and it produces more energy than it consumes.

According to a report commissioned by the US Green Building Council, green construction in the US is projected to generate $303.5 billion in GDP, 3.3 million jobs, and $190.3 billion in labour earnings between 2015-2018. In 2014, Canada’s green building industry generated $23.5 billion in GDP and directly employed nearly 300,000 people – more than the forestry, oil and gas, and mining industries combined. Green buildings are also better for our health and wellbeing, improving brain function and productivity.

So the benefits are clear, and we’ve made a good start – but we can and must do more.

It is possible to create a world in which every single building produces zero carbon emissions. If we start today, we can – quite literally – build a better tomorrow.

Terri Wills is CEO, World Green Building Council

Image credit: Flickr / SupportPDX

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