Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Architects & Climate Change

by Larry Strain

Climate change is happening. No help and a lot of hurt is coming from Washington. Architects are going to have step up our efforts. Buildings account for close to half of the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S.

So what can we do now?

Bishop O'Dowd Center for Environmental Studies

ZNE-verified: Center for Environmental Studies, Bishop O'Dowd High School, Oakland, CA

Reduce Operation Emissions
We can design and advocate that all new buildings be zero net carbon (ZNC) – super-efficient, all electric and powered by renewable energy. (Adding short term on-site battery storage also helps the grid stay off fossil fuels when the sun isn't shining.) If our buildings can't achieve ZNC, they can be ZNC ready, and can still be powered by 100% off-site renewable power, through programs like Community Choice Energy or PG&E's Solar Choice program.

Reduce Embodied Emissions
We can reduce the embodied carbon footprint of our buildings. Building a new home generates 30-50 tons of GHG emissions and larger commercial buildings generate a lot more – equal to more than 10 years of operating an efficient, code compliant building. When our new buildings are ZNE, embodied carbon accounts for all the emissions. We can reduce those emissions by 25-30% by just focusing on concrete and a few other materials. Higher reductions are possible when we pay attention to everything else, and use carbon sequestering materials. Building with materials that are made from atmospheric carbon – wood, straw, and, coming soon – concrete and even plastics – could transform our buildings into carbon sinks instead of carbon emitters.

Reuse & Upgrade Existing Buildings
We can design and advocate for reusing and upgrading existing buildings instead of building new ones, which saves carbon twice – reuse generates less carbon emissions than building a new building and upgrading reduces the operating emissions from existing buildings. (Operating existing buildings accounts for 95% of all building emissions). Most existing homes and a lot of commercial buildings could be retrofitted to be ZNC.

None of this is easy, but if we're serious about addressing climate change, it's what needs to be done.


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