Carbon neutral buildings or ‘net-zero’ buildings share an ability to counterbalance, or offset the climactic cost of the energy taken by its operation. The building needs to be able to produce the same amount of energy that it ‘uses’
It’s not particularly necessary for the building itself to be energy efficient but it must reduce the energy load. Renewable energy can be used then to offset anything remaining.
The manufacture of materials used in building accounts for nearly 40% of the world’s carbon emissions - these include the manufacture of glass, steel, and cement. New technology, constantly evolving, means that we have come a long way in reducing emissions from the process, but in the development of built, or urban, environments there is still much to achieve in the race for net-zero.
According to the World Green Building Council, the construction sector accounts for 36% of energy consumption globally, 38% of energy-related carbon emissions, and 50% of resource consumption. This is expected to double by 2060.
So what are the ways we can negate emissions in an urban environment via design and build?
Reuse and recycle
Buildings become defunct. Societal changes and the way communities live, work and socialize today can leave historical buildings, as an example, unused and essentially unfit for purpose, whereby that purpose has been taken away. Urban planners and architects have an obligation to ensure the spaces they create are fir for the communities they serve. Adapting older structures, re-using materials, and adding newer, sustainable elements negates the need for demolition and thereby negates the carbon footprint that reconstruction creates. Changing function or reclaiming of abandoned buildings or sites can go a long way to carbon neutrality in built-up areas.
Passive solar energy
Collecting solar energy and distributing it via non-mechanical means can provide buildings with electricity, power, lighting, and heat via natural methods. This is managed during the design process with careful consideration of room allocation, placement in respect of the position of the sun, placement of windows and any glass, utilizing skylights - clever use of shade, water features, and sheltering entrances. All of these elements contribute to the direct, indirect, and isolated gain of solar energy, then used within a ‘passive’ system.
Connecting our designs and buildings to the local climate, challenges, and all, is essential in achieving net-zero status. In context, natural light should be used wherever possible. Water wastage kept to an absolute minimum and avoiding thermal losses help the building take advantage passively of any natural resources afforded by their community context.
An overused buzzword, sure, but any building designed in 2022 should be considerate of its longevity on an environmentally friendly scale. This means that it can continue to be maintained for generations without damage or weakening architecture. Resource efficiency is something now implemented at federal level across the world, as it rightly should be. Consideration in materials used, a legacy ‘fit for purpose’ approach that looks to the future, and energy efficiency as mandatory elements, alongside considerate landscaping techniques and processes are the best start. Smart planning and material selection are key.
It seems to be a large ask to meet global goals on emission reductions by 2050. The architecture industry has the opportunity to make a difference with every design and build. Achieving net-zero may require higher initial investments, whether in construction, materials, or the re-modeling process, but the legacy on the environment and for future generations is worth the cost - especially to the world climate.