Carbon Neutral 101 from the Green Building Council (GBCA) has recently received numerous queries on the topics of ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘zero net operating emissions’. We expect that we will continue to hear about projects wishing to pursue these goals.Buildings need to have zero emissions in their construction, operation and embodied energy to be truly carbon neutral.

The challenge has now been set for the property industry to take a closer look at how the buildings can be carbon neutral, including embodied energy by 2020.

Although it is possible to achieve zero net operational carbon emissions from buildings by 2020, truly carbon neutral buildings, including embodied energy are a significant challenge, unless carbon offsetting is used.

How Buildings Achieve Zero Net Operating Emissions

It is possible now for buildings now to achieve zero net operating emissions. There are already a number of projects worldwide that achieve zero net operating emissions.

New and existing buildings are already taking steps towards becoming carbon neutral now by including a range of initiatives and technologies:

  • passive design – by using heavy façade, openable windows for ventilation, and thermal mass insulation it can reduce the heating and cooling load;
  • on-site generation of energy from renewable sources – solar heating, photo-voltaics, wind and geothermal;
  • change to efficient appliances and light fittings, turning off computers, purchasing green power and improving other behaviours; and
  • introducing alternative ways to learn, work and play – hot-desks, working from home, taking lessons outside.
  • In terms of existing buildings, project teams optimise, upgrade or remove HVAC systems, cooling towers, and lifts to reduce energy use.

How Buildings Can Go Carbon Neutral, Including Emodied Energy

Embodied energy includes all the energy it takes to produce a building. This can include energy required for producing and transporting building materials, on-site processes for constructing the building, as well as demolition of the building when time comes.

However, there are some things that can be done now.

  • re-use and reduce materials;
  • re-use and refurbish existing buildings as opposed to constructing new buildings;
  • consider the mode, distance and fuel type when transporting materials; and
  • begin measuring the embodied energy.

What About Green Star?

Green Star – Office Design and Office As Built v3 awards maximum points within the energy category to projects that achieve zero net operating emissions.

Currently in Green Star – Office Design and Office As Built v3 zero net operating emissions include the operation of HVAC systems, lights, hot water, lifts and other base building energy allowances.

Carbon Neutral is currently not specifically awarded in Green Star.

Next Step

Moving from neutral impact to positive impacts…

The environmental impacts beyond energy must be considered. Environmental impacts from buildings must be negated, buildings should be restorative to our environment.


Green Building Council Australia

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