We all know what Net-Zero is and how good it would be for the environment if every building was NZEB (if not, read our dedicated article here!). Now we need to ask ourselves, where do we stand in achieving the goal of a green transition?
How To Keep Climate Change Center Stage Post-Pandemic
As we addressed in our previous article, climate change took on a renewed interest during the pandemic when we had to stay at home and watch outside as nature reclaimed its space, but it was a hot topic even before, due to several big-scale disasters in the past years.
Indeed, global greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have fallen by 7% since 2019 according to recent research by the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project but the return to normality after the vaccinations also risks returning us to a lifestyle that poorly follows the natural cycle of the planet’s resources.
It is essential that we rethink the ways in which we can continue to support the fight against climate change. This challenge starts with our urban environment and our buildings, places of our daily lives and major sources of pollution.
With more than 40% of today’s CO2 emissions coming from buildings and 30% of energy wasted in buildings, we need to rethink the way we build cities around the world. Even before 2020 and the pandemic, the way buildings were designed, constructed, operated, and maintained was already under scrutiny and facing increasing regulatory and occupier pressures.
New technological advances, however, are making it easier to create buildings that are carbon neutral and that are not only more energy efficient and sustainable, but can also produce renewable energy.
This is where the new meaning of Net-Zero building comes in.
Developers and building operators are looking at their current and future commercial space and re-evaluating how they can use the space more efficiently and effectively for the environment as well.
In essence, Net-Zero means that the amount of energy consumed by a building is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on-site or supplemented by other off-site renewable energy resources. This is not an easy feat to achieve by any means. Developers and building owners will have to work to achieve this goal. In fact, all buildings must achieve Net-Zero carbon by 2050 to meet the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. So how do we get there?
Net-Zero: a report shares new insights
In July 2021, the WBCSD published a report with the aim of looking in detail at the results of six whole life cycle assessment (WLCA) case studies to illustrate some of the challenges, barriers and opportunities relating to the building industry’s carbon footprint.
The WBCSD association was founded in 1995 with the idea of involving the most forward-thinking companies in processes to facilitate knowledge sharing on sustainable development, develop and accelerate the adoption of sustainable standards and tools. To this date, it has more than 200 member companies, allowing them to produce the already quoted report called “Net-Zero Building” that was carried out highlighting the challenges, barriers and opportunities related to reducing the carbon footprint of the building industry.
The aim of the report is to provide an insight into the current performance of the construction industry and to compare it with possible future zero emission trajectories.
Analyzing the whole life carbon emissions of the six building projects using the WBCSD Building System Carbon Framework, the report shows that:
- An average whole life carbon footprint of 1,800 kg of CO2e/m2 was estimated across the six case studies.
- As much as 50% of whole life carbon emissions in a building comes from embodied carbon (manufacturing of materials and the construction process) the majority of this being emitted immediately at the start of the life cycle.
- Typically as few as six materials account for 70% of the construction-related embodied carbon.
The study highlighted that one of the main obstacles to Net-Zero is the lack of available carbon intensity and WLCA data, as well as a general lack of large-scale resources, collaboration and knowledge sharing in this field. In addition, there is a lack of global consensus on methodological assumptions and definitions of Net-Zero proportionate to the GHG emission reductions required, removals, offsets and explicit targets set to support it. These barriers need to be addressed quickly on a large scale if we are to have the change of course we need.
The case studies highlight how key areas of opportunity for decarbonization are reached through close partnerships and collaboration between industries. In addition, there is a need for an industry-wide call for standardized targets and methodologies, and also regulations and financial instruments to incentivize the industry’s green transition.
The report identifies crucial next steps to support the sector’s journey toward decarbonization:
- Adopt a clear definition of a Net-Zero building, taking into account the whole life-cycle carbon.
- Carry out WLCA on all projects, using a consistent methodology and open-source sharing of the data obtained.
- Commit to clear, simple global targets across the buildings industry, including a valid approach to residual emissions (offsetting).
- Develop consistent and transparent carbon intensity certification for components, systems and materials used by the industry.
- Achieve wider collaboration as individual organizations taking action is not enough.
WBCSD developed this report in collaboration with professional service firm Arup. The authors encourage stakeholders from across the built environment to conduct whole-life carbon assessments of their projects and openly publish the results to create a body of evidence and foster shared learning.
It is clear that the public interest in these matters has the power to push governments and developers in the right direction. As long as we keep the attention high on these topics, the decision-makers will always have to consider possible future zero emission trajectories.
Read the full articles here:
- Gary Fuller, The Guardian, Pollutionwatch: how sources of summertime smog are changing, June 18, 2021 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/18/pollutionwatch-how-sources-of-summertime-smog-are-changing)
- Gary Fuller, The Guardian, Pollutionwatch: is it time to protect air quality indoors?, July 2, 2021 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/02/pollutionwatch-protect-air-quality-indoors-tube-rail)
- Gary Fuller, The Guardian, Pollutionwatch: Pollutionwatch: time to rethink London’s red routes, June 4, 2021 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/04/pollutionwatch-time-to-rethink-londons-red-routes)