Aug 24, 2021

Act together to change the world

by Edward Mazria

Architecture 2030 is calling on all architects, engineers, planners, and individuals involved in the building sector worldwide to design all new projects, renovations, landscapes, cityscapes, and infrastructure to be zero carbon starting now.

If the community acts together today, we can mitigate and even prevent the worst effects of climate change. Our calling is, and has always been, to make the world a better place. Now is the time to step up and help protect life on this planet.

At the 2007 Architecture 2030 Global Emergency Teach-in, I sat next to the renowned climate scientist James Hansen and asked, “When will we begin to see the actual effects of global warming?” He leaned over and whispered, “At about 1°C warming.” Today, I checked NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet website and, sure enough, Earth is currently 1.02° C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

I write this less than two weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its comprehensive and alarming Sixth Assessment Report on the state of the climate crisis. Meanwhile, brutal heat waves, droughts, deadly flooding, and fires are shattering world records and ravaging Europe, North America, China, and India—the regions currently responsible for 58% of global CO2 emissions.

The takeaways are clear: We are all in this together, and we must all act quickly and boldly. The time for half measures and outdated targets is over if we are to stop the irreparable destruction of our cities, towns, and natural environments.

“The time for half measures and outdated targets is over if we are to stop the irreparable destruction of our cities, towns, and natural environments.”

Architects and design professionals have a unique and critical role to play. We directly shape and influence the built environment worldwide. 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.

Building operations alone account for about 40% of total global CO2 emissions; factor in interiors, sitework, landscapes, cityscapes, and infrastructure, and that percentage is much more. If the world is to meet the 1.5°C carbon budget set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, we must provide the necessary leadership and reduce CO2 emissions in the entire built environment by 65% by 2030 and reach zero carbon by 2040.

How difficult is designing to zero carbon? Not difficult at all, particularly with the resources and technologies available. Here are the three steps to zero carbon.

Three steps to begin designing zero carbon buildings today.

1. Design to the Latest Codes and Standards

Design efficient buildings that use little energy to operate by meeting current energy standards and codes (ASHRAE 90.1-2019 and the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code), their equivalent, or better.

Local building energy codes set minimum energy efficiency requirements. They do not prevent architects, engineers, and building sector professionals from designing to current code standards—or from going above and beyond.

Buildings designed to current standards have several advantages. Studies show that they are cost effective and reduce occupant energy burdens. Furthermore, they can be designed with ready-to-use energy modeling compliance tools, checklists, and trade-off options, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s COMcheck and REScheck. Architects in more than 170 countries, including many developing countries, can use EDGE’s free software to pinpoint least-cost options and calculate utility savings, payback periods, and a building’s carbon footprint.

2. Design for All-Electric and Renewables

Design all new buildings, major renovations, and developments to use no on-site fossil fuels—gas, oil, or propane—and to be 100% powered by on-site and/or new off-site renewable energy. The health, economic, and environmental benefits of all-electric buildings are well documented.

Burning fossil fuels directly in buildings accounts for 5.4% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and 35% percent of all domestic building-sector CO2 emissions. To meet the 1.5°C carbon budget, buildings must operate on only electricity supplied by on-site and/or new off-site renewable energy (see the Zero Code and 2021 IECC Zero Code Appendix). This will further lay the groundwork for new renewables to decarbonize the power sector and, in turn, the existing building stock.

3. Zero Out Embodied Carbon

While steps 1 and 2 will produce zero-carbon building operations, we must also confront the embodied carbon of building construction and materials if we hope to phase out CO2 emissions by 2040. Architects, engineers, and planners can minimize the embodied carbon emissions from all new buildings, major renovations, infrastructure, and construction by adopting the following three tactics:

  • 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, such as the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3 tool).
  • 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.

Twenty years ago, when I founded Architecture 2030 and issued the 2030 Challenge, achieving zero carbon buildings seemed a distant aspiration. Today, thanks to the creativity and ingenuity of the global design and construction community, we have the knowledge, standards, tools, and technologies on hand to achieve zero carbon buildings in all climates, worldwide.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to be leaders in solving the climate crisis. This is the ultimate design project. This is our legacy.

Edward Mazria is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Architecture 2030 and is an internationally recognized architect, author, researcher and educator. Over the past four decades, his research into the sustainability, resilience, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of the built environment has helped redefine the role of architecture, planning, design and building in reshaping our world. He was awarded the 2021 AIA Gold Medal for his “unwavering voice and leadership” in the fight against climate change.

Article originally published in Architect.

Latest News

Introducing Allison Hyatt

Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum Allison Hyatt is a Researcher with the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington. With years of...

Introducing Megan Kalsman

Policy Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forumby Megan Kalsman I have always been drawn to and fascinated by cities. How we work, play, and move about...

Introducing Meghan Byrne

Engagement and Communications Lead, Carbon Leadership Forum Meghan Byrne works to support collaboration and communication across the CLF Community...

Introducing Milad Ashtiani

Building and Materials Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum, University of Washington Milad Ashtiani is a civil engineer and PhD candidate at the...

Decarbonizing Design Resource

By Melissa MorancyDirector, Sustainable Knowledge & Engagement, American Institute of Architects (AIA) In 2015, I worked with AIA’s Historic...

2022 Embodied Carbon Policy Action

by Meghan LewisSenior Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum 2021 was a busy year for embodied carbon policy, and 2022 looks to be filled with even...

Ground-breaking CLF Materials Report

October 27, 2021 Today the Carbon Leadership Forum released a ground-breaking report on the potential for meaningful climate impact through...

Introducing Brad Benke

Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum, University of Washington Brad Benke, AIA, is a Research Scientist at the Carbon Leadership Forum focused on...

Six Months into SE 2050

Structural Engineers Combine to Share Learning, Resources, and Ambitious Decarbonization Goals By Chris Jeseritz Chris Jeseritz is a project manager...

US Government targets Embodied Carbon

The Green Building Advisory Committee’s adoption of procurement principles will drive federal action on low government embodied carbon building...

Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront

The World Green Building Council’s pioneering report "Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Coordinated action for the building and construction sector...

Embodied Carbon in Construction

Published in Buildings & Cities in the Special Collection: "Carbon metrics for buildings and cities" Publication date: September 2020 Authors:...

Carbon Positive RESET!

There has never been a greater urgency for climate action. by Ed Mazria and Natasha BalwitArchitecture 2030 We are in a race to find solutions for...