What is Zero Carbon Building?

Building decarbonization—the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings—is central to Shift Zero’s mission, but what does that mean? Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions related to buildings fall into two categories: (1) “operational carbon” emissions associated with heating, cooling, and operating buildings, and (2) upfront “embodied carbon” emissions associated with the manufacture and transport of building materials and the construction of buildings themselves. Our definition of zero carbon building encapsulates both.

The first step is to maximize energy efficiency so that we dramatically reduce the energy required to operate our buildings in the first place. As we make those energy efficiency improvements we need to make material selection and building design decisions that minimize embodied carbon. We also need to eliminate the burning of fossil fuels onsite, and recognize that by electrifying buildings we can leverage at the building level the ongoing decarbonization of the larger electricity grid. Finally, our zero carbon buildings will run on 100% renewable energy, either generated onsite or procured offsite.

Steps to a Zero Carbon Building:

  • Step 1: Maximize Energy Efficiency
    • Efficient building envelope
    • Efficient systems and appliances
    • Operations and maintenance
    • Change in user behavior
  • Step 2: Minimize Embodied Carbon 
  • Step 3: Eliminate Fossil Fuels
    • Electric space heating, hot water systems, and appliances
    • No combustion of fossil fuels 
  • Step 4: Use Only Renewable Energy
    • Maximize on-site renewable energy generation where practical
    • Procure off-site renewable energy that is additional, local, equitable, and legally assigned to the building.
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