Zeroing In On Net Zero Carbon Buildings

The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) officially launched its Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment (the Commitment) as part of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, CA, on September 13, 2018. In a statement of coordinated action from business and cities, states, and regions, 38 signatories — 12 businesses, 22 cities, and four states and regions, gathered at a dedicated session to signal the start of a leadership movement towards a decarbonized built zero carbon

Businesses across the world representing US$22.95 billion in revenue throughout the building and construction supply chain, have set ambitious targets to eliminate operational carbon emissions from their building portfolios of over 10.7 million square meters by 2030. This aims to create a wider market transformation to enable net zero carbon buildings by 2050.

Net Zero Carbon For New And Existing Buildings

Leaders from some of the world’s biggest cities plus two major regions, have committed to enact regulations and/or planning policy, that will require all new buildings within their jurisdiction to operate at net zero carbon from 2030; and all buildings, including existing, to operate at net zero carbon by 2050. Some cities, state and regional governments, have additionally committed to ensure the municipal assets they own, operate, and develop are net zero carbon by 2030.

The WorldGBC definition of a net zero carbon building is a building that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.

This collective commitment provides evidence that industry, mayors and governors are willing to take drastic action to prevent catastrophic climate change and create more comfortable, healthy and future-proofed environments for their employees and residents to occupy. WorldGBC welcomed the following founding signatories of the Commitment:

Business, recruited from the Green Building Council network

  • Majid Al Futtaim, property developer in the Middle East
  • Integral Group, global engineering firm
  • Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), lighting manufacturer
  • Cundall, global engineering firm
  • Kilroy Realty, real estate investment trust
  • Frasers Property Australia, major developer
  • AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund, property investment fund
  • Berkeley Group, residential property developer
  • Shaw Contract – Commercial division, flooring manufacturer
  • GPT Wholesale Office Fund, property investment fund
  • Stockland, property developer
  • Salesforce, a cloud computing company

Cities, recruited in partnership with C40

  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg & Tshwane, South Africa
  • London, UK
  • Los Angeles, CA, US
  • New York City, NY, US
  • Newburyport, MA, US
  • Portland, OR US
  • San Francisco, CA, US
  • San Jose, CA, US
  • Santa Monica, CA, US
  • Washington DC, US
  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Montreal, Toronto & Vancouver, Canada
  • Paris, France
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Tokyo, Japan

States and regions, recruited in partnership with The Climate Group as secretariat for the Under2 coalition

  • Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • Yucatan, Mexico
  • Navarra and Catalonia, Spain

Collectively, these organizations are committed to eliminating a cumulative total of 209 million tons of carbon emissions equivalent (CO2e) from their buildings by 2050. That is the equivalent of 44.7 million cars off the road for one year.

The Commitment drives the scale and pace of action necessary to reduce carbon emissions and requires a transformation in the way we design, build and operate buildings.

Signatories are required to evaluate their current energy use and associated emissions across their portfolios; identify opportunities to reduce energy wastage and improve energy efficiency; power their buildings from renewable energy sources; and report on progress against decarbonization targets. All signatories will be expected to meet high verification standards, in the lead up to and in the year of achievement of net zero carbon emission buildings, and report annually on progress.

Business signatories also commit to further advocate through their operations to eliminate carbon emissions, becoming enablers to radically transform the wider supply chain. For example, the Berkeley Group, who build 10% of London’s homes, have already achieved their target of becoming carbon positive (beyond net zero) for their own operations in 2018 but have committed further to ensure that all their developments achieve net zero by 2030 through transition planning. AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund, an AUD$5.7 billion fund that invests in Premium and A Grade core office assets in Australia, committed to be carbon neutral across its portfolio of 13 buildings by 2030, which will reduce 70,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

All city signatories have committed to enacting pioneering regulations and/or planning policy. Following the example of cities such as Vancouver’s Zero Emission Plan launched in 2016 which required all new buildings to have no operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The plan was developed specifically to ensure comfortable and healthy indoor environments, maximize local economic development, ensure long-term building resilience, and to protect housing affordability. The plan will facilitate Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy, which aims to ensure all buildings use only renewable energy by the year 2050.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment has been developed in partnership with a wide stakeholder group including Green Buildings Councils, The Climate Group, and C40. Last month, C40 announced 19 cities from their network would be joining the Commitment across nine countries. The Commitment 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. Businesses signing the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment become EP100 members.

net carbon zero
Image: World Green Building Council

This Commitment is part of the WorldGBC global campaign Advancing Net Zero (see infographic above), launched in 2016. To enable all those who own, occupy, and develop buildings to act on the Commitment, WorldGBC’s network of almost 70 Green Building Councils (GBCs) will continue to provide a range of transformational and capacity building support including advocacy, policy development, education and certification. Seven GBC net zero carbon buildings certification schemes have been launched, with a further six due to be released by 2019, helping to deliver local solutions to a global issue under a common WorldGBC definition.

WorldGBC’s next priority is to address embodied carbon, which is the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials, together with end of life emissions. Embodied carbon emissions must reach net zero by 2050 in order to achieve a below 2 degree scenario, and ideally below 1.5 degrees.

Globally, buildings and construction together account for 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when upstream power generation is included. Operating emissions are 28%, with construction emissions such as manufacture of materials 11%[1].