Two major organizations that represent building professionals have recently announced their intent to help create carbon-neutral cities.

 The World Green Building Council (WGBC) has joined with the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) in a project that aims to define low-carbon to no-carbon cities. In addition, the International Union of Architects has adopted a declaration that commits its members to designing carbon-neutral development.

The WGBC has signed on to the Closing the Loop project created by the CRCLCL, which has garnered industry support from AECOM, HASSELL, and Brookfield Multiplex. According to the WGBC, the project “will connect a wealth of existing evidence with front-end decision makers through better business case analysis, professional education, practical tools and guidelines.”

“Collaborating with the World Green Building Council provides our project team with a unique opportunity to tap into the global leadership and significant knowledge that already exists throughout the world, thanks to the Council,” said CRCLCL chief executive officer Professor Deo Prasad AO.

Based at the University of New South Wales, CRCLCL is a government-funded research and innovation centre that aims to lower carbon emissions in the built environment. The centre brings together researchers with policy, engineering, planning, and property development organisations. The Australian government has set a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent compared with levels in 2000, and Australia already leads the world in the GRESB report.

“Ultimately our focus is on creating long-term change that not only reduces the impact of our environmental footprint, but leads to far-reaching and long lasting social and financial benefits to all,” Prasad said.

The World Green Building Council links more than 100 Green Building Councils worldwide and represents their members in creating sustainable and healthy cities and buildings.

In similar news, the International Union of Architects has adopted the 2050 Imperative, a commitment to phasing out CO2 emissions in the building sector by 2050. The potential for improvement is substantial, as the global building sector is currently responsible for over 70 per cent of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Global development will reshape the world’s cities in coming decades, with an area approximately equal to 60 per cent of the current built environment to be constructed in just the next 20 years.

The International Union of Architects’ declaration commits members to cutting CO2 emissions by designing sustainable, resilient, healthy, and carbon-neutral buildings and communities, generating renewable energy on site, and providing clean air and water.

Those emissions reductions are substantial, but two reports offer data that show how the reductions can be achieved. The Carbon Trust is a UK organisation that helps businesses, governments, and the public sector worldwide to reduce carbon emissions. Their report, Building the future, today says non-domestic buildings can achieve the UK government’s carbon reduction goals ahead of schedule while saving at least £4 billion for the UK economy by 2020, and while also increasing the security of the UK energy supply and providing better buildings for workers.

The report outlines a few key points, including:

  • CO2 emissions can be cut by 35 per cent by 2020, compared to 2005, at a cost savings of at least £4 billion.
  • Existing options can cut CO2 emissions by 70 to 75 per cent at no net cost.
  • Most current options for reducing emissions must be implemented immediately, including decarbonising the energy grid.
  • Nearly all current buildings will need an overhaul to lessen energy use.

According to the report, most cost-effective emissions reductions can be achieved by relatively simple measures. As much as 70 per cent of those reductions can be met by:

  • Installing a programmable thermostat.
  • Reducing room temperature.
  • Installing the most energy-efficient boiler.
  • Optimising start times.
  • Installing a more efficient air conditioner.
  • Installing Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs).

Another 19 per cent of cost-effective reductions can be attained through management of lights and appliances, such as:

  • Basic timers for lights.
  • Turning lights off for one hour.
  • Installing presence detectors for lighting.

Improved energy management systems are another six per cent of cost-effective emissions reductions, which the report says combine to result in “a ~15% reduction in carbon emissions across the existing stock of ~1.8m non-domestic properties.” New buildings offer more potential, “with cost-effective carbon reduction potential of ~45% compared to new buildings built to 2006 Building Regulations.”

In Australia, the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star program now has more than a decade of data based on more than 640 projects. Their report, The Value of Green Star – A Decade of Environmental Benefits, offers useful comparisons between buildings built to minimum industry requirements, average Australian buildings, and Green Star buildings.

Green Star certified buildings, on average:

  • Produce 45 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and consume 50 per cent less electricity than structures built to minimum industry requirements.
  • Produce 62 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use 66 per cent less electricity than average Australian buildings.

Looking at the details shows just how much higher performance buildings pay off:

  • 4 Star Buildings reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent compared to standard practice, and by 60 per cent compared to existing building stock.
  • 5 Star Buildings reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent compared to standard practice, and by 62 per cent compared to existing building stock.
  • 6 Star Buildings reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57 per cent compared to standard practice, and by 70 per cent compared to existing building stock.

Currently, green building practices, such as those required by Green Star, are saving 625,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum compared to average Australian buildings, according to the GBCA.