CarbonPositive: If Architects Act Together Now, They Can Change the World

Architecture 2030 calls on all architects, engineers and planners worldwide to design allnew buildings, renovations and landscapes.

We can reduce and even stop the worst effects of climate changes if we all work together. It is our calling to make the world a better destination. This is your chance to make a difference and protect the planet.

At the 2007 Architecture 2030 Global Emergency Teaching-In, I sat beside James Hansen, a renowned climate scientist, and asked him: “When will it begin to show the actual effects of global heating?” I checked NASA Vital Signs of the Planet and found that Earth is 1.02 degrees Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels.

This is less than two weeks since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its extensive and alarming Sixth Assessment Report on climate change. Global CO2 emissions are currently at 58%. Meanwhile, heat waves, droughts and deadly flooding are destroying world records and ravaging Europe and North America.

It is clear that we are all in this together and must act swiftly and boldly. If we want to prevent irreversible destruction of our cities, towns, or natural environment, it is time to abandon half-measures and set outdated targets.

The unique role of architects and design professionals is crucial. We shape and influence the built environment globally. We are the only industry that crosses all borders and has the ability to immediately reduce global emissions. Also, we can design and build today to zero carbon.

Global CO2 emissions are 40% due to building operations. Add in landscapes, citiesscapes, and infrastructure and the figure is even higher. We must lead if the world is to meet 1.5degC carbon budget as set out in 2015 Paris Agreement. We must reduce CO2 emissions by 65% in the built environment by 2030, and achieve zero carbon by 2040.

Is it difficult to design zero carbon? It is not difficult, especially with the available resources and technologies. These are the steps that will get you to zero carbon.

Zero Carbon in 3 Steps

1-Design to the Most Recent Codes and Standards

Design energy-efficient buildings that require little energy to run by complying with current energy codes and standards (ASHRAE 90.1 2019 and 2021 International Energy Conservation Code), or their equivalents.

Local building codes establish minimumenergy efficient requirements. These codes do not prohibit architects, engineers, or professionals in the building sector from adhering to current code standards, or from going beyond them.

Modern buildings have many advantages. They are more cost-effective and less energy-intensive, according to studies. They can also be equipped with energy modeling checklists and tools that allow for trade-offs. EDGE’s software is free for architects in over 170 countries. This includes many developing countries. It can help them find the most cost-effective options, calculate utility savings, payback times, and determine a building’s carbon footprint.

2-Design for All-Electric and Renewables

All new buildings and major renovations must use no fossil fuels on site–gas, oil or propane–and be powered 100% by renewable energy on-site and/or off-site. All-electric buildings have numerous health, economic, environmental and financial benefits.

Direct combustion of fossil fuels in buildings is responsible for 5.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 35% of domestic building sector CO2 emissions. Buildings must be able to run on electricity only, and not from new or existing off-site renewable energy. This is in order to meet the 1.5degC carbon budget (see the Zero Code and 2021 IECC Zero Code Annexe). This will help to create the foundation for new renewables that decarbonize both the power sector, and the existing building stock.

3-Zero Out Embodied Carbon

Steps 1 and 2 will result in zero-carbon building operations. However, it is important to address the embodied carbon from building construction and materials if you want to eliminate CO2 emissions completely by 2040. The following three strategies can be used by architects, engineers, planners and planners to reduce embodied carbon emissions in new buildings, major renovations, infrastructure and construction:

  • Reuse: Use existing buildings and urban areas to repurpose or upgrade them instead of building new infrastructure.
  • Reduce: Fill and densify urban areas in order to make use of existing infrastructure. Optimize structural systems to reduce material consumption. Use comparative tools such as the Embodied Carbon Calculator to specify low- or zero-carbon materials.
  • Sequestering: Use mass timber, glue- or crosslaminated wood from sustainably managed forests. If possible, use bamboo structural members or panels.

Twenty years ago, zero-carbon buildings seemed like a distant dream when Architecture 2030 was founded and the 2030 Challenge was launched. We have today the tools, knowledge, standards, and technology to build zero-carbon buildings in any climate, thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of the global design community.

This is an incredible opportunity for us to lead the solution to the climate crisis. This is the ultimate design challenge. This is our legacy.