Zero-carbon buildings are set to create the #FutureFasterNigel Topping, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition
When you sit in any building, in any of the world’s major cities, you are usually surrounded by an abundance of three key materials – glass, steel and cement. These are the building blocks of modern construction and make up the fabric of the cities and towns we know and love.
While they are clearly vital, the large emissions footprint of the buildings and construction sectors underscores the urgent need to transform the built environment, to help deliver the zero-carbon #FutureFaster.
Together, the buildings and construction sectors account for 36% of global final energy use and 39% of energy-related CO2 emissions, when upstream power generation is included, according to the Global Status Report.
The good news is that buildings are being transformed, helping to create the cities that will allow people to thrive both now and in the future. This transformation is being seen right across the buildings landscape, from the way they are planned, the materials used to make them, the way they are constructed, used, powered, commuted to, repaired and dismantled.
Starting from the planning stage, powerful demand signals are being generated in cities from London to Tokyo. Together, 19 mayors have said they will require all buildings to be carbon neutral by 2050, through the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, led by C40.
Meanwhile, leading businesses, cities and subnational governments have committed to owning, operating and developing net-zero carbon buildings by 2030, with the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, led by the World Green Building Council. Many of the business signatories of this commitment have also become members of EP100, the global corporate leadership initiative for energy-smart companies, led by The Climate Group and the Alliance to Save Energy.
Among the first signatories to the commitment are a group of 12 leading companies including major property developer in the Middle East Majid Al Futtaim and UK residential property developer Berkeley Group.
These efforts are being bolstered by organizations such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which connects more than 90 of the world’s greatest cities, representing over 650 million people and one quarter of the global economy.
The C40 cities are required to have a plan to deliver their contribution towards the goal of constraining global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C. Because of this long-term vision, they are instrumental in helping to shape the future of low-carbon built environment and spur demand for low-carbon buildings.
And in London, eleven businesses including Tesco, Sky and Siemens have partnered with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to work towards making London the world’s greenest city.
Demand signals like these are prompting construction companies and materials producers to rethink outdated ways of doing things.
Embracing the challenge, over 40 construction and real estate companies have set ambitious, science-based targets to reduce their emissions, including Japan’s Daiwa House and the UK’s LandSec.
Many of these companies are reliant on those three key buildings blocks – glass, steel and cement. However, the producers of these materials are also stepping up to the challenge.
Earlier this year, India’s Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel became the first steel company to have an approved science-based target – raising the bar for what’s possible in the sector. Since the approval of that target, Chairman of the Mahindra Group – Anand Mahindra – has increased ambition again and committed the entire $20.7 billion conglomerate to go carbon negative by 2040 – including the steel operations.
Meanwhile, the industry non-profit RespsonibleSteel is helping to define best practice along the value chain by developing an independent certification standard.
In the cement sector, two leading producers in India – Dalmia Cement and Ambuja Cement – have both committed to setting science-based targets. Dalmia is now producing the lowest carbon intensity cement in the world – the carbon footprint at its group level is 20% less than the global cement average. It’s also committed to switching to 100% renewable electricity with RE100, led by The Climate Group, in partnership with CDP, doubling energy productivity with EP100 and has just announced its long-term vision to go carbon negative by 2040.
In total, 14 companies in the cement sector have made bold climate commitments through the We Mean Business coalition’s Take Action campaign. This includes UltraTech Cement, which has recently committed to EP100, in addition to its engagement with the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative, led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
These companies are taking climate action because it helps to drive innovation and will deliver the materials needed by the construction sector in the future.
The task of reaching zero-carbon emissions from cement is not to be underestimated. It is one of the most difficult and costly sectors of the economy to decarbonize, according to the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC). But it is possible through a mixture of initiatives and decarbonisation pathways, according to the research.
Meanwhile, four of the world’s ten largest glass manufacturers – Saint-Gobain, Owens Corning, Asahi Group and Nippon Sheet Glass – have either committed to set a science-based target or have one already approved.
One of the reasons companies like these are rapidly decarbonizing is because it helps to protect growth in the face of disruption. While buildings may seem like one area that’s not heading for major disruption, there are several alternative approaches that could radically change the landscape.
For example, Solidia Technologies is using an innovative technique that injects carbon back into cement in place of water, reducing the carbon footprint of final concrete by up to 70%. And technology-driven construction company Katerra is using cross-laminated timber, a high-tech structural wood, while aiming to deliver mass-market buildings via a ‘one-stop shop’. Research from the ETC suggests that the substitution of timber for cement could play a major role in emissions reductions over the long term.
Other disruptive ideas include ‘self-healing’ concrete to increase its lifespan and cut usage, photocatalytic concrete, which decomposes airborne pollutants, while HeidelbergCement is piloting a concrete that could store thermal energy from solar panels.
Meanwhile, the way buildings are connected via public transport links, power grids and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, are all being re-imagined to help create the new vision of what a city or town of the future should be.
Companies and governments can harness the opportunities of the zero-carbon future, transforming the built environment, and helping to build a better #FutureFaster.
- Join the conversation on Twitter and see how companies are helping to create the zero-carbon #FutureFaster