Zero Code: How to Build a Carbon-Neutral Future

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Article Was Originally Published May 16, 2018 in Multifamily Executive.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the planet’s future depends on how we plan, design, and construct the built environment today. Now, a new building standard — ZERO Code — aims to make sure that future is sustainable and carbon-neutral.

An initiative of the nonprofit organization Architecture 2030, ZERO Code is the first global standard for buildings that produce no net greenhouse gas emissions. By adopting the new standard, local jurisdictions, builders, and architects can improve their bottom lines and the health of the planet at the same time.

ZERO Code starts with state-of-the-art, cost-effective energy-efficiency standards for new commercial, institutional, and mid- to high-rise residential buildings. It then takes those standards a step further by specifying the sourceof energy for these high-performance buildings: on- or off-site renewable energy. By integrating efficiency and renewables, the code achieves the holy grail of sustainability — zero-net-carbon buildings.

No Time to Waste
The need for carbon-neutral buildings — and cities — is clear. We’re adding about 1.5 million people to the world’s cities every week, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future. To accommodate those new city dwellers, some 2.5 trillion square feet of buildings will be constructed by 2060. That’s the equivalent of building an entire New York City every 34 days for the next 40 years.

At the same time, our collective emissions of greenhouse gases have brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached levels not seen in human historyrecord-breaking heat is now the norm in the U.S. and around the world. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, the Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise in global average temperatures to below 2 degrees C.

To achieve that goal, all new construction must be designed to high energy-efficiency standards and use no CO2-emitting fossil-fuel energy to operate, starting now. By 2050, the entire built environment must be carbon-neutral.

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Urban Resilience