What is a zero carbon building?

Energy consumption and energy efficient buildings have been a hot topic for some time now. Climate change is increasingly a concern in almost all sectors of life, but especially the construction sector; the focus on a sustainable future has never been more intense. As such, it’s likely that we’ve all read something around the subject of green buildings and sustainable buildings, but have you heard of zero carbon buildings? What precisely is a net zero carbon building and who is developing such projects?

South Africa - Learn more about zero carbon architecture and how it's changing the future.

What is a zero carbon building?

According to the World Green Building Council, a zero carbon building is one that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources. Their definition stemmed from a dissatisfaction with ‘net zero energy’ as a concept.

‘Net zero energy’ requires a building to be 100% self-sufficient, relying entirely on on-site energy supply. Carbon neutral means that the net carbon emissions are zero, as the amount of carbon released is balanced by offsetting an equivalent amount. The World Green Building Council believes that measuring the carbon of a building, and aiming to cover all energy needs through both on- and off-site renewable sources, is a more realistic and inclusive way to measure a building project’s impact on the environment and to help achieve the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement.

How popular is the movement?

Besides the World Green Building Council, there are plenty more organisations galvanising action towards the zero carbon, sustainable building goal. There’s the French HQE Alliance, Green Building Councils (GBCs) in Canada, Brazil and South Africa, the National Carbon Offset Standard for Buildings and Precincts run by the Australian government, and the US GBC – all of whom are keen to help building owners and contractors progress from LEED certification, to full zero carbon accreditation.

The Canadian GBC has highlighted 16 pilot schemes that they’re most proud of, which includes everything from offices and warehouses to government buildings and even a school. One of the biggest bonuses of measuring total carbon using a net zero carbon building certification is, according to the Council, that it’s easily applicable to brand new builds, but also to renovations and improvements of older buildings. Re-using existing structures is clearly key to achieving green goals, rather than knocking down and starting everything from scratch.

Where are zero carbon buildings heading?

For the World Green Building Council, the goal is to have all new buildings be net zero carbon buildings by 2030, with the longer-term aim of all buildings being net zero carbon by 2050. Their global network, which they are hoping to expand, currently employs over 900 staff and comprises 76 Green Building Councils, with 32,000 member companies. Among the NGOs working to help achieve these goals are the International Union of Architects with their Declaration 2050 Imperative. This pledges to design cities and new buildings ‘to be carbon neutral’ and to ‘plan and design sustainable, resilient, inclusive and low-carbon/zero-carbon built environments’.

Do you think that net zero carbon building has a positive future with potential for impact in your country or industry?

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