Architecture 2030 issues call to design and build to zero carbon to directly shape and influence the global built environment
The construction and operation of buildings generate nearly 40 percent of annual green house gas (GHG) emissions in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, all of which contribute to climate change. Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization working to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crisis, recently reiterated the urgent need for decarbonization strategies in materials, design, practice and policy to achieve low-carbon buildings.
In an article for Architect Magazine — CarbonPositive: If We Act Together Now, We Can Change the World — Architecture 2030 founder and 2021 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal recipient Edward Mazria details three steps designers and builders can take to begin designing zero carbon buildings today.
The first step is to design to the latest codes and standards. Energy-efficient buildings that use little energy to operate and are designed to current energy standards and codes —such as the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code, ASHRAE 90.1-2019, or their equivalent (or better) — have several advantages, according to Mazria. Both yield highly efficient buildings that, when coupled with renewable energy for building operations, result in zero CO2 emissions. Local building energy codes set minimum energy efficiency requirements and they do not prevent architects, engineers and building sector professionals from designing to current code standards, or from going above and beyond. And studies show that they are cost-effective, reduce occupant energy burdens and can be designed with ready-to-use energy modeling compliance tools, checklists and trade-off options.
The health, economic and environmental benefits of all-electric buildings are well documented. Step two covers designing all new buildings, major renovations and developments to be completely powered by all-electric and renewable energy; no on-site fossil fuels such as gas, oil or propane. While steps one and two will produce zero-carbon building operations, step three includes confronting and “zeroing out” the embodied carbon of building construction and materials. Architects, engineers and planners can minimize the embodied carbon emissions from all new buildings, major renovations, infrastructure and construction by adopting three tactics: reuse, reduce and sequester.
Reuse: Repurpose and upgrade urban areas and existing buildings instead of constructing new infrastructure; use local and recycled materials when available; and design buildings for deconstruction.
Reduce: Infill and densify urban areas to utilize existing infrastructure; reduce material use by optimizing structural systems; and specify low- to zero-carbon materials using comparative tools.
Sequester: Use mass timber and glue- or cross-laminated wood from existing sustainably managed forests; use bamboo structural members and panels if available; specify materials that sequester CO2 in their manufacture or application; and plan and design carbon-sequestering sites, parks, and urban landscapes.
“We directly shape and influence the built environment worldwide,” Mazria explains in the article. “We are the one industry across all political and geographic boundaries with the agency to affect global emissions immediately. In other words, we can decide to design and build to zero carbon today.”