How Do Buildings Contribute to Climate Change?

Posted May 25, 2022 by in Lifestyle
NYC financial district at night

Climate change is so holistic a reality, that it’s hard to attribute it to just one source or habit. However, all these years of research have enabled us to know that reducing carbon dioxide is definitely something that will move the needle.

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas accumulates in the atmosphere through various sources and fossil fuels and accelerates global warming. It is increasingly realized that major carbon polluters are – buildings, homes, whatever we burn and/or drive, plus carbon-based electricity. Things get trickier to understand with each sector or industry under scrutiny. Moreover, each building contributes differently and on multiple levels – its construction, logistical functioning as well as location.

So what exactly is the carbon footprint of a building?

As per the United Nations Environment Program, buildings account for at least 39% of global energy use which is carbon dioxide specific. As for the US, it’s the residential & commercial or privately owned buildings that contribute to approximately 40% of energy consumption (US Energy Information Administration).

The building emissions are essentially compartmentalized into two – “operational building emissions” (28%) & “embodied carbon of a building” (11%).

Operational building emissionsEmbodied carbon of a building
PoweringLightingHVACCarbon generated through manufacturing Building materialsTransporation Construction 

How does the building sector reduce carbon: the way forward

To be able to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, the global temperature rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees celsius. Currently, the floor area has been escalating at 2.3% annually, which is why looking into energy investments is non-negotiable. Furthermore, it is predicted that if carbon emissions of buildings aren’t checked anytime soon, they are likely to DOUBLE by 2050 and that is irrevocable damage. The time to act on the little window is now.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and/or lost, it’s advisable to reach out to environmental firms or green energy firms, or green engineering services firms like The Cotocon Group who have a proven history of providing compliance services in New York City to building owners that helps acquire LEED certifications of all categories.

Follow these tips to help you kick start the de-carbonization process:

1. Choose carbon sequestering materials
2. Maximize structural efficiency
3. Operator and occupant training
4. Optimized HVAC
5. Check water usage
6. Use recycled content
7. Use efficient lighting (sensors, LEED, PE, etc)

What is the building sector doing?

The architects and industry specialists are still exploring, therefore a fixed blueprint is yet to get strategized. However, through various compliance programs and legislations, a certain level of discipline and environmental consciousness. These are the LEED, Energy Star, Passive Housing, and the Living Building Challenge.

The AIA has recently released a “Climate Action Plan” which revolves around an evolved form of architecture that successfully incorporates the climate change narratives in a way that also climate-proofs the buildings. This is with regard to energy-efficient design, construction, a focus on renewability, etc.

Woman on bench looking outside at the Empire State Building in NYC

Moreover, NYC has also launched The Climate Mobilization Act. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation enacted in May of 2019. It was designed to reduce New York City’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (2030), and up to 80% (2050). With being one year closer to the CMA, it’s high time the city is well prepared to act on the commitments. This set of legislations are deemed highly penal in cases of non-compliance which is tied to harsh financial penalties that get worse over time. (For example, a 1 million sq ft commercial office building that is just 10% above the 2024 carbon limit will be looking at a penalty of about $230,000 every year till 2029. From 2029 to 2030, the permissible carbon limit will be further reduced by a staggering 50% equating to a $1,200,000 penalty every year till 2034.)