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Industry challenged to achieve net zero carbon buildings

The World Green Building Council has issued a challenge to the global building sector: eliminate carbon emissions from building use by 2030.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment – the first of its kind worldwide – was issued at the WorldGBC Congress Canada in Toronto last week.

Any company signing up will have to track, verify and report publicly on their buildings’ energy and carbon metrics and encourage their supply chains and partners to make a similar commitment to reach net zero by 2030. The challenge comes on top of WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero program to promote and support the target that all buildings be net zero by 2050.

The WorldGBC outlines what business, governments and non-governmental organisations can do to achieve net zero buildings (NZB) in its From Thousands To Billions: Coordinated Action Towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings By 2050 report. It defines NZB as “a highly energy-efficient building with all remaining operational energy use from renewable energy, preferably on-site but also off-site production, to achieve net zero carbon emissions annually in operation”.

WorldGBC Advancing Net Zero Infographi

The challenge was unveiled in advance of the Global Climate Action Summit taking place in San Francisco, and the world’s largest Net Zero Conference, NZ18 in Los Angeles, unfortunately both happening on the same days – 12-14 September 2018.

WorldGBC chief executive Terri Wills said she knew the vision was ambitious, “but we know that the building industry has the knowledge, the technologies and the capability to deliver.”

Founder signatories of the commitments are:

  • Majid Al Futtaim– a pioneer in shopping mall, retail and leisure destinations in the Middle East and North Africa, which has partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme to advance sustainable development and positively impact the environment
  • Integral Group– a global engineering firm specialising in delivery of net zero buildings
  • Signify (the new company name of Philips Lighting), which has another commitment to be 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2020

Ibrahim N Al-Zu’bi, chief sustainability officer at Majid Al Futtaim; Kevin Hydes, CEO at Integral Group; Harry Verhaar, head of global public & government affairs at Signify; and Terri Wills, WorldGBC CEO, at the launch.

Integral has committed to zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2020 across its 15 global office locations, and “to actively promote opportunities for net zero on every project we engage on, removing technical, financial and perceptual barriers to uptake”.

Kevin Hydes, Integral Group’s chief executive, said: “We believe that there are two key ingredients to designing net zero buildings: positive people and simple engineering. We have been able to design over 65 net zero projects – several of which have been independently certified as such, verifying that they produce more renewable energy than they consume – so we know it can be done. Signing up to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is a natural next step for us in our drive to build high performance buildings that respect and enrich the earth.”

Signify already sources 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources and recycles 87 per cent of its manufacturing waste, and also audits and trains its supply chain to develop sustainability performance, responsible minerals sourcing and carbon disclosure.

To support the commitment, five GBC net zero carbon buildings certification schemes, including Australia, have been launched, with a further six due to be released by 2019, helping to deliver local solutions to a global issue.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment has been developed in partnership with a wide stakeholder group including The Climate Group and C40. It forms part of EP100, a global corporate leadership initiative for energy-smart companies, delivered by The Climate Group in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy.

Worldwide interest in NZB

The market for NZB is beginning to take off. In March this year top retailers such as Aviva, BT, Cemex, Ikea, Kingfisher, M&S, Nestle, Sky and Tesco demanded a nearly zero carbon target for the UK’s building stock.

Although a new market, NZB is growing fast with a sevenfold increase since 2010 in the United States and Canada, amounting to 45 million square feet of commercial building space, according to the New Buildings Institute, one of the North American bodies which verifies NZE buildings.

Looked at another way, the percentage of commercial office space certified by LEED or Energy Star has risen to 38 per cent in 2017 from less than fiveper cent in 2005.

UU NZB map

California is already implementing a plan that all new residential buildings be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020 and all new commercial buildings be ZNE by 2030. Additionally, 50 per cent of existing commercial buildings will need to be retrofitted to ZNE by 2030. Though it admits that this is a huge shift, it believes that recent advances in energy efficiency best practices, solar photovoltaic and energy storage position the building sector for success.

The California Public Utilities Commission is using it as a legislative tool to achieve this – the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategy Plan.

Within California, Santa Monica’s updated Green Building Code already requires all new low-rise residential buildings to be designed to use 15 per cent less energy than allowed in the 2016 California Energy Code and achieve an Energy Design Rating of zero.

The city believes itself to be the first city in the world to enact a net zero building code for its municipality. All new high-rise residential, non-residential, hotels and motels shall be designed to surpass the 2016 California Energy Code’s energy requirements by using 10 per cent less energy.

According to Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of the World Resources Institute: “By 2050, the global floor area in buildings is expected to double to more than 415 billion square metres, and buildings’ energy demand may increase by as much as 50 per cent, but the buildings sector is a laggard in climate action with average energy consumption per person remaining practically unchanged since 1990.

“The IEA 2-Degree Scenario requires that building-related CO2 emissions drop by 85 per cent from current levels by 2060. This means all new buildings must be zero carbon by 2030, and all new and existing buildings must be net zero carbon by 2050.”

Head start in the industry

Steer says that the building sector has a big advantage – “the technology and design techniques for zero carbon buildings are both available and cost-competitive”. These include passive design principles, energy-efficient equipment and storage, carbon-negative materials and a combination of onsite and offsite production of clean energy.

But “permit-by-permit” change is not fast enough, and instead we must “shift market expectations – in prominent, high-growth places – of what acceptable building assets look like”.

Steer cites Shanghai’s Changning District as an example of good practice, which recently put in place an energy monitoring platform that now tracks 160 of the district’s 165 public buildings. This project is supported by the World Bank.

Mexico City and Medellin, Colombia, are among cities using mechanisms including energy tariff levies, municipal bonds, concessional finance, and some public budgets such as facilities maintenance funds to achieve this goal.

Mexico City is hosting Greenbuild Mexico 2018 19-21 June, where industry leaders will outline the opinion about the future of green building in the country and capital. It is one of 25 cities that have already committed to become an emissions neutral by 2050.

In Colombia, growth is spurred by financial markets, with Bancolombia having issued it first green bond, which raised 350 billion Colombian pesos (AU$158.8 million) to expand financial services for private sector investments that address climate change.

Between 2008 and 2016, 1.6 million square meters of building space has been certified green in Colombia, and in 2017, it boasted 384 green building activities. Medellin will soon host a Global Innovation Centre, one of the first net zero buildings in South America, whose design prototype achieved net zero carbon at full operational energy densities (including laboratories) and net zero energy as office space only, both without the purchase of green energy or carbon offsets.

President Juan Manuel Santos has praised the efforts of his country’s construction sector to tackle climate emissions: “We are the first country in Latin America that is already imposing a series of conditions on environmental sustainability, meaning that constructions have to be more environmentally friendly. The contribution of the construction sector to reduce the factors causing climate change is a very important step.”

This shows the value of strong leadership. If a poor country like Colombia can do this, surely the richer ones can too.

David Thorpe’s two new books are Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference and Solar Energy Pocket Reference. He’s also the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

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