The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings
The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings

The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings

Green Building Principles: The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings offers a set of 10 principles to help companies deliver net zero carbon buildings and meet key climate commitments.
RE+D magazine

Developed with JLL, the Principles and Action Plan outlined in the "Green Building Principles: The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings, INSIGHT REPORT OCTOBER 2021", aim also offer implementation strategies to decarbonize buildings at a portfolio level.

The United Nations international climate negotiations (known as the Conference of the Parties (COP)) are held each year to review and revise ambition on mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts.

2021’s COP26 in Glasgow, the United Kingdom, is one of the most influential of these gatherings as it is the first time that countries will officially present how they will increase the ambition of their roadmaps to achieve the stated goal of the Paris Climate Agreement: to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C above pre-industrial levels while pursuing the means to limit increase to 1.5°C.

Green Building Principles: The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings offers a set of 10 principles to help companies deliver net zero carbon buildings and meet key climate commitments.

Developed with JLL, the Principles and Action Plan outlined in the "Green Building Principles: The Action Plan for Net-Zero Carbon Buildings, INSIGHT REPORT OCTOBER 2021", aim also offer implementation strategies to decarbonize buildings at a portfolio level. This Action Plan draws on existing recommendations and signposts to an array of current targets to deliver this set of Principles at a global level while allowing for adaption to local contexts.

The Green Building Principles outline the key steps that a company needs to take to deliver on its net-zero carbon commitment.

According to the Plan the ten prinviples are comprised as follows:

1. Calculate a robust carbon footprint of your portfolio in the most recent representative year to inform targets. 

A carbon footprint is a calculation or estimation of the carbon emissions associated with a business and can be broken down into Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Simply put, Scope 1 emissions are generated by a company’s direct combustion of fuel (e.g. natural gas), Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from purchased energy (e.g. electricity), and Scope 3 are all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. For most companies, the vast majority of their carbon footprint is Scope 3. While all emissions should be measured and reduced by a company, for the purposes of this guidance, only the Scope 1-3 emissions of real estate assets should be covered; in other words, the whole life carbon of all buildings

2. Set a target year for achieving net-zero carbon by 2050 at the latest, and an interim target for reducing at least 50% of these emissions by 2030. 

The Race to Zero requires signatories to set targets to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050 at the very latest, with an interim target to halve emissions, ideally by 2030. Net-zero carbon targets should cover emissions from all material sources across Scope 1, 2 and 3. 

3. Measure and record embodied carbon of new developments and major refurbishments. 

Embodied carbon in new developments and major refurbishments refers to the carbon emissions that are produced primarily before a building becomes operational and when it is decommissioned. Emissions are typically generated by activities such as extraction of raw materials, transport to facilities, construction of a building, refurbishment and demolition and waste management at end-of-life. These emissions constitute a significant proportion of all emissions from the built environment. Around 38% of global emissions come from the building and construction sectors. Of this 38%, 10% come from embodied carbon. These emissions are estimated to account for close 50% of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

4. Maximize emissions reductions for all new developments and major refurbishments in the pipeline to ensure delivery of net-zero carbon (operational and embodied) by the selected final target year. 

The first step to reducing embodied carbon is to understand the different elements of a building and its typical lifetime. Elements such as the foundation, structure, and façade will last considerably longer than the services, interior and other elements. Therefore, careful design and selection of materials will ensure durability and adaptability to future circumstances.  

5. Drive energy optimization across both existing assets and new developments. 

Energy optimization is the implementation of both design and operational measures to ensure that a building is using the minimum energy required for the functions it needs to perform. The ambition of energy optimization measures varies. At the lowest level, maintenance measures can be implemented, such as renewing insulation of hot water pipework, increasing the frequency of filter replacement in air distribution systems, or adjusting start/stop times of plants. At an intermediate level, both proactive energy monitoring and retro-commissioning of buildings can take place. These interventions could include the installation of sub-metering, recalibration of temperature sensors, or rebalancing heating/cooling systems. At the highest level, companies could invest in capital projects such as the installation of a hybrid of fan coil units or of hybrid variable refrigerant flow systems. In tandem with energy-efficient technology, it is important to ensure that building services are electric, enabling them to benefit from renewable energy generation.

6. Maximize supply of on-site renewable energy. 

Even after all energy efficiency measures are implemented, there will still be a need for energy to power buildings. To comply with net-zero carbon, a company should ensure this energy comes from renewable sources. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy includes all forms of energy produced from renewable sources in a sustainable manner, including bioenergy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy, solar energy, and wind energy. Companies should first look to identify how much electricity they can generate themselves from renewable sources.

7. Ensure 100% off-site energy is procured from renewable-backed sources, where available. 

For many companies, it will be unlikely that their entire energy demand can be met from onsite renewable sources. Therefore, identifying renewable sources from which energy can be procured is the next step. There are many types of renewable energy procurement contracts available and not all of them guarantee the same quality of renewable energy. Therefore, this Action Plan develops a hierarchy of renewable energy procurement options.

8. Engage with stakeholders with whom you have influence in your value chain to reduce Scope 3 emissions. 

Emissions classified as Scope 3 are the emissions that a company indirectly impacts in its value chain. These emissions often comprise the most significant portion of emissions for a company, especially for building owners and developers. It is therefore important to identify ways to reduce these emissions, and this Action Plan suggests that stakeholders reduce them anywhere that they have influence and can engage with those who influence them directly. 

9. Procure high-quality carbon offsets to compensate for residual emissions. 

Carbon offsetting is the idea that the carbon emissions generated through an activity can be compensated for by financially supporting a project elsewhere that prevents or removes the equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere. . It is very likely that – even if a company undertakes all efforts on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and embodied carbon – they will still have emissions that they cannot avoid. Companies are allowed to use carbon offsetting to compensate for these emissions. Companies should demonstrate that they have made serious efforts to reduce their emissions by the previously outlined means first before they proceed to procure carbon offsets. 

10. Engage with stakeholders to identify joint endeavours and equitably share costs and benefits of interventions.

While green buildings are increasingly recognized by the market as being more valuable, delivering net-zero carbon is a financial commitment. It goes above the current standard energy management plans that most companies have in place. One of the first questions companies will often ask is “Who pays?” This question is often asked by building owners and investors since the benefits of energy efficiency optimization and renewable energy supply are often gained by the occupiers. This split incentive in the industry is well known, and historically, attempts to share cost burdens across this divide have not been successful.