What Progress Have We Made Toward Addressing Climate Change?
We are seeing rising sea levels, increases in heat waves, dramatic glacier melt, and a longer more extreme wildfire season all due to climate change. In Boston, July 2019 was not only the hottest July recorded, but the hottest month on record. That same month the U.K. experienced their highest temperature ever recorded and this was after setting records during the previous month in June 2019.
The earth's global surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). This warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused by human activities, says GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.
The fight against global warming is an enormous challenge and one that is being fought worldwide across numerous sectors. Let’s take a look at what progress the building sector is making in this battle.
Green Buildings: A Weapon to Fight Climate Change
In the United States, buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions, which is more than any other sector. More startling is that U.S. buildings alone are responsible for more CO2 emissions annually than those of any other country except China. The majority of the emissions are from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment.
Green building is a critical tool in the climate change fight. The Paris Agreement marked a turning point in the efforts to curb global warming, resulting in the momentum to deploy energy-efficient and low-carbon solutions for buildings and construction around the world. Green buildings provide ample opportunities to reduce energy and lessen CO2 emissions, while also providing significant cost-savings.
Two organizations leading the commercial real estate industry in the fight against climate change in the U.S. and Canada are the U.S. Green Building Council and the Canada Green Building Council.
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used green building rating system, was created 20 years ago by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is available for virtually all building, community, and home project types, providing a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.
In April 2019, USGBC officially released the complete suite of LEED v4.1 rating system guidelines. LEED v4.1 emphasizes the human experience and pushes project teams to create spaces that not only reduce carbon emissions, energy, water use and waste, but also improve the health and well-being of the people who live, work, learn and play in these buildings, cities and communities every day.
LEED reports that 2.2 million+ square feet is LEED-certified every day with more than 90,000 projects using LEED.
Well-known brands such as Starbucks, TD Bank and Subaru have buildings that are LEED certified, as are iconic spots including New York City’s Empire State Building, the Chinatown Public Library in Chicago, and the Crystal in London. Osram Americas headquarters in Wilmington, MA is a LEED Gold certified building.
The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC)
The CaGBC is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada. The CaGBC is the license holder for the LEED green building rating system in Canada and supports the WELL Building Standard. With a membership of over 1,200 industry organizations and more than 2,500 individual Chapter members involved in designing, building, and operating buildings, homes and communities, the Council has made excellent inroads toward achieving its mission of reducing the environmental impact of the built environment.
The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change committed to by Canada’s First Ministers in December 2016 established Canada’s vision for meeting its international commitment of a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 — a critical objective in Canada’s transition to a low-carbon future. Projections revealed that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with buildings would grow modestly by 2030 unless further action is taken. To mitigate that growth, CaGBC introduced a radical new standard Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard which challenges energy consumption as the key metric for assessing how “green” a building is.
Instead of measuring energy, the Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard uses carbon as the key metrics.
According to a CaGBC report, to help ensure Canada meets its GHG reduction commitments, both energy use and carbon emissions need to be reduced simultaneously, which can be accomplished cost-effectively by taking a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) approach. A number of educational institutions and corporations in Canada are involved in the CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program. Humber College’s Building NX was the first retrofit project to achieve a ZCB design certification from the CaGBC.
U.S. Cities Adopting Stricter Building Codes
Even though the U.S. federal government has been backing down on climate change and clean energy policies, cities around the country have been continuing their fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities use a variety of options to address their own energy use and to influence energy use in their communities such as land use and zoning laws, adoption and implementation of building codes, public finance, transportation investment, workforce development, and sometimes the provision of water and energy.
According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) report The 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard, U.S. cities are adopting or advocating for stricter building energy codes in their urgency to address climate change. According to the report, between January 2017 and April 2019, local governments across all cities took more than 265 actions—new initiatives or expansions of past ones—to advance clean energy.