(3.5-min read)

Many cities are adamant about attempting to help reduce their carbon emissions. In order to put their money where their mouths are, they will need to assess their largest producers of carbon emissions facing any municipality — yep, buildings. While many point the blame at automobiles and manufacturing pollution, buildings account of as much as 70% of all carbon emissions in larger metropolitan cities. 

Acting on a goal produced by the World Green Building Council in 2015, the goal aspires to create a trend standard that all buildings be carbon neutral by 2050. Carbon neutrality means that a building or entity only uses as much energy as they also generate. Some cities have even more ambitious goals. Tokyo, London, and New York — some of the planet’s largest carbon offenders — have expressed a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. 

But are carbon-neutral buildings even a possibility? 

One of the main challenges to carbon neutrality is not how to pursue environmentally-friendly construction, but how to convert older buildings into zero-waste structures. Newer structures can be designed with carbon neutrality baked into their design and construction. Older structures, however, were often designed and constructed with very little thought to energy efficiency. 

One plan of action to attempt to curb wasteful emissions and energy usage is with tighter building codes. The newly proposed codes (mostly currently limited to larger municipalities) would try to reduce energy usage from half or more of their current levels. Nowadays, HVAC, lighting, and water temperature augmentation are the primary consumers of energy. While many new innovative energy-reducing strategies are constantly being developed, making all buildings energy-neutral still seems many decades away for many in the industry. Other reductions include the use of solar, wind, and geothermal power. 

To answer the question of the feasibility of a carbon-neutral building; yes, it’s possible. Many new residential, as well as commercial construction projects, have resulted in carbon-neutral structures. One such example is the Pixel Building in Melbourne, Australia. The commercial building is a prototype of the future of carbon-neutral office space. Outfitted with solar panels, wind turbines, and lit mainly by natural daylight, the building boasts true carbon neutrality.

While there are plenty of commercial and organizational buildings that have recently been constructed which can truly claim carbon neutrality, it comes with a substantial initial cost. This doesn’t make it impossible, but somewhat less common than the alternative. Though markets are shifting in the direction of environmentally conscious commercial construction, it is hard to speculate as to whether that will one day be the norm. 

So, is true carbon neutrality of a building possible? Yes, and it has already been accomplished. Is it likely to spread across a major American city by 2050? We’ll have to wait and see.  


If you have any questions about commercial construction or would like a construction quote for your organization, let us know! 

Connect with the Oklahoma-based commercial construction professionals at Cowen Construction today.