The Road to Net Zero

The World Green Building Council (World GBC) has called for every building to be net zero carbon by 2050 to keep global warming below 2°C. As it stands currently, there are only 500 net zero commercial buildings and only 2000 net zero homes. This is under 1% of all of the buildings in the world. It is clear that there needs to be a tremendous coordinated effort from businesses, governments, and the public to accomplish this goal.

Net zero carbon means zero carbon emissions, or balancing the emissions with carbon offsets. These offsets could be carbon credits as well as using energy from renewable sources that are generated on or off site. The primary way companies are attempting to accomplish this is by means of high efficiency buildings that are able to use much less energy than traditional buildings. These high efficiency buildings are then also able to produce the energy that they need to operate. One of the most popular ways energy is produced in an energy efficient building is through solar. Solar panels placed on roofs and in some cases, the exterior, of the building allow for significant energy production that can be immediately used by the building. Wind farms are a growing trend that larger companies use to offset their energy use.

Recently Amazon has announced their largest wind farm in Texas will produce one million megawatt hours annually. Amazon is also focused on up fitting their existing building to be more green friendly and energy efficient. They plan to add rooftop solar to 50 fulfillment centers and finish 15 new facilities with them installed by the end of 2017. These are the steps that all companies need to adopt in order to meet the global carbon emission level that World GBC deems acceptable for our planet.

It seems obvious that the government will need to set some regulations that will force companies to adopt the same mindset, but how do you go about enforcing that? How can we expect small startup companies to have this mindset in their infancy when the driving force to their growth and success is profits, not carbon emissions? Does the public need to adopt the attitude that companies doing their part are better and should be utilized more? If so, how? These are just a few questions that will help push us towards net zero.

http://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/every-building-planet-must-be-%E2%80%98net-zero-carbon%E2%80%99-2050-keep-global-warming-below-2%C2%B0c-new

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/5-companies-leading-charge-net-zero-building

https://www.amazon.com/p/feature/gkkwdp34z5ou7ug

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-buildings-produce-energy-not-consume/

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38 thoughts on “The Road to Net Zero

  1. Solar panels are a remarkable development that will indeed be a significant part of future building developments. However, government involvement is not necessary to push companies into adopting solar panels for energy generation. Currently, solar panels are extremely expensive for both commercial and residential installations. The vast majority of small businesses are not in a position to make the upfront investment for solar panels, and many of them may have very little benefits from solar due to lack of sunlight in their geographical location. Requiring these businesses to install solar panels would put many in jeopardy of going out of business. The cost benefits of solar energy are already in place, it’s just a matter of letting the market regulate itself to drive product and installation prices lower to the point it is affordable for the average American family and small business.

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  2. I think the idea of net zero is a very great idea, but I don’t foresee this idea to be developed into practice any time soon. Its very easy for a company like Amazon, who has millions (maybe billions) of revenue, to spend money on the installation of solar panels. I don’t think it would be fair to require companies to install solar panels or develop renewable energy sources. I think what would be a better approach is to incentivize ($$$) companies to build energy efficient structures/ buildings to house their infrastructure. Paying for this incentive may be something tricky that would need to be ironed out, but I think it would be more feasible than having a solar panel on every roof. Maybe one day the technology will allow for cheap and efficient solar panels to be installed on roofs, and maybe then the government could “require” companies to install them. For now, “net zero” is a great idea, but not necessarily feasible.

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  3. Zero energy buildings are a great development but I do not think they are feasible on a country-wide scale. I think economics of scale makes many of these buildings expensive and inefficient because on such a small scale, renewable energy generation is expensive and inefficient. Additionally, many areas might not be suitable or have access to wind or solar which would make a zero-carbon building in the area improbable. The constant maintenance and repair needed to upkeep this small power plant might also cause the price to dramatically increase. Like you mentioned, I think using consolidated generation in offsite wind or solar farms might be a much better idea but this still does not solve the problem for areas with little or no renewable potential.

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  4. I think that the only way that we can possibly reach the goal of net zero carbon by 2050 is through education. I don’t think that the average citizen has any idea of their carbon output even if they care (which they probably don’t). Only if we can make the problem relevant to people’s every day lives will they want to find a solution. Once that happens, net zero carbon output can be a tangible solution that every person can get behind. But only if they have significant incentive.

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  5. I think its going to be a struggle to get to net zero, but personally, I believe that the change needs to come with new buildings. I think that there needs to be some regulations on new buildings and houses to help accomplish the goal of net zero. The government would have too hard of a time tracking every single building and their status of net zero. Existing company buildings and houses are not going to comply because most don’t have the money like Amazon to do it. If you take it with buildings that are going to be built, it’ll be much easier to implement and track the status of them. Implement codes and regulations to help achieve this goal and let all existing buildings be grandfathered in. Eventually, we will come much closer to the goal of net zero. Doing so may also deter companies or families from destroying forests just to build neighborhoods and companies. I think that this would be one of the only feasible solutions to accomplish this goal.

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  6. This past Spring, I went to visit the Southface Energy Institute located in Atlanta. There primary goal is to create more sustainable buildings both energy and water wise. They currently are heading up a program called the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge (ABBC) which is a free voluntary initiative that gives companies guidelines and rewards them with free services, such as guidance and resources to hit there 20% reduction goal. I attached the link to their website below! Definitely a unique and progressive company.
    http://www.southface.org/about-us/

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  7. There should be diverse coordinated plan between government and business leaders on how to tackle carbon emissions linked directly to building operations and maintenance. Obviously, I do not expect small mom and pop companies like Mr. Haircut or Creature Comforts to start putting solar panels on their roofs. However, people are starting to expect large corporations, especially those like Amazon and Google who use an enormous amount of power for their direct business operations, to start incorporating energy efficiency and carbon-free energy production into their business model. When you are flush with as much cash as the Fortune 500 companies are, it seems right to expect them to make an impact, especially when that impact will save them $$$$ in the long term.

    I think local governments with a dense downtown have some responsibility to try and integrate solar into their development plans. Think of all the real estate on the roofs of downtown Athens! There is a business model out there for it, local municipalities (and their businesses!) would benefit significantly from a cost-sharing program. Wish UGA could jump on this band wagon…

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  8. It is encouraging to see a major company like Amazon move to make more and more of their buildings net zero and expanding their renewables generation, but we must understand that Amazon’s case alone is a work in progress. While less than 1% of buildings worldwide function as net zero, I believe it is fair to say that net zero is not an impossible task, but it is a daunting one in the short term. With all of the other environmental issues that currently exist, net zero is a definite future end goal, but the short term will need to focus on the larger companies beginning to transition that way. With the current economic situation of renewables getting cheaper but still being an expensive overhead cost, small to medium businesses will be hard-pressed to install measures to function net zero. That being said, bigger well-known companies that can gain publicity or even tax credits from installing net zero measures can also serve as poster children to the way of tomorrow!

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  9. I think that for every building be net zero carbon by 2050 is a really large feat, and would require a lot of public education and a lot of contribution from Congress. I do not think that it is impossible though! We are at a very critical time in terms of atmospheric carbon, and taking leaps such as this are completely necessary in order to slow global warming. It definitely will be more difficult for smaller businesses to be able to afford the upfront cost of renewable energy, but education on the payoff over time might compel them.

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  10. Topics like these are why I really wanted to take this class. we all see the future as renewable energy and or net zero carbon emissions and the biggest question is so how do we get there? Its also very important to consider the resources and the transportation and all the energy that is needed to produce renewable energy tools like wind farms. Also the amount of land that will have to be used to counter act nuclear energy. In the long run maybe it would be better but how would we ever get to that point?

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  11. Thanks for positing this! Like many others, I agree that it is not necessarily realistic or fair to expect every business regardless of size to integrate solar power into their office building design. However, I do think that a great way to encourage all businesses regardless of size would be to better promote the long term economic benefits or solar power and other techniques to increase efficiency and reduce net carbon emissions. If businesses are able to see the money they will be able to save long term from these investments they might be more inclined to make them initially.

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  12. I don’t believe that this a feasible goal because in order to do so there would have a be a massive amount of funds available. That being sad, if they were to enforce this the best way to do so would likely be a fine if you don’t reach the required standards. Although smaller companies may lack the funds to achieve net zero they likely came come pretty close since they are a smaller company and have less operations going on. Having the public also favor those who are attempting net zero would also be very helpful in achieving the goal. By showing support by buying from these companies, it will incentivize more companies to do the same.

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  13. Startup businesses will not have the money that Amazon has to put into solar power, but startup businesses do have one thing that Amazon does not; the power to create a culture. There are plenty of ways to keep electricity consumption low without installing solar panels and a startup business has the capacity to create a culture that squeezes every drop of productivity out of their electricity consumption. The problem arises though when the business looks for hires. The potential employees see this culture as a hindrance to economic development.

    Ultimately, it would help tremendously if people took initiative to not be as wasteful with the energy that they are fortunate to have, but that is not the culture that has been bred into society, making it a difficult problem to approach and solve.

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  14. There are some companies that see how they are affecting the environment and take the initiative to be more sustainable. However, the majority of companies in the world will need to see some monetary benefits in order to be more sustainable with energy needs. If governments will include incentives and tax benefits from using less carbon, perhaps some companies will begin to adopt cleaner practices and help the World GBC reach their goal.

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  15. It would be very intimidating for small businesses to go net zero in a short time frame. However, if they were standards for carbon emissions that gradually required companies to cut percentages of their emissions over time, I think it would be feasible. Low carbon emissions would then become the norm and eventually lead to all future infrastructure being net zero.

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  16. I have conflicted feelings about this – I love that companies are taking initiative and working to make their facilities more energy efficient and sustainable. However, for a company like Amazon, I can’t help but feeling like it’s kind of an advertising ploy. Maybe a well-intentioned one, but an advertising ploy nonetheless. Amazon is a company built on selling stuff and lots of it and shipping it fast, at great costs in terms of energy and transportation. I feel like putting solar panels on their buildings is low-hanging fruit when it comes to addressing their holistic environmental impact.

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  17. I think that there is a market in sustainable energy and sustainable companies. People want to support companies who are “going green”. So whether companies are using it as a marketing ploy or not, I think that as long as they are actually contributing to the movement and developing renewable energy for their companies, then I have nothing wrong with this. It’s really awesome to see companies like Amazon using their money for the better of the world and helping push America to reach a more sustainable future.

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  18. Very interesting article and I am curious how the World Green Building Council calculates a net zero building!

    As far as small business… I think they have one (kind of not so fun) advantage in reducing their carbon emissions is that, due to a small budget, they are forced to prioritize what they spend their money on (or energy consumption). Employees and customers of a huge companies like Amazon already expect so much from them (or they have already set high standards) – for example employee social functions, bean bag rooms, fancy colorful buildings, company name pens, etc. – where as a small company have less pressure to fulfill these “extra” needs and has to make budgets that will grow their business productively (and sustainably) for the future. They cant afford high tech technology, but in a sense, whether they like it or not, have the importunity to change energy consumption habits.

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  19. I think net zero energy buildings is a great idea, but I don’t think it will be 100% achievable any time in the near future. Solar panels are very effective in energy efficiency, but they are very expensive. A lot of companies now are pushing to “go green”, but at the same time there are a lot of people out there uneducated on environmental impacts (or they simply don’t care about their carbon footprint impact). The government can solve this by spreading more awareness. I think that is the only way to kickstart the net zero energy building initiative.

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  20. While I love the idea of zero carbon emissions I find it unlikely that humans will be persuaded to do so until it’s too late. It’s jaw-dropping how many people don’t even realize the major impact that humans are having on the Earth. Solar energy will be a great way to move towards cleaner energy, but I don’t think the government will be able to regulate that. Also, I believe it’s gotta be an international issue as well to make a major difference even though it does start with us.

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  21. Much like everything else that we have covered so far in class and on blogs, personally I believe that the only way to sway consumers in a certain direction is to target the young consumers. I think that this can be achieved by implementing educational standards in grade schools, and teach our growing generations while they’re young. I do realize that this means it would take a while to achieve full awareness, considering that most kids in grade school are not consumers- their parents are. Aside from that, I think that what you mentioned about “greener” companies being more attractive to consumers could become a norm with the right amount of awareness. Many makeup companies have historically tested their products on animals; as various animal activist groups have generated lists upon lists of these companies and published them for all makeup consumers to see- many consumers have ran in the opposite direction from the listed companies. As a result, the companies that do not test on animals began to advertise their cruetly-free ways more and more, while animal-testing companies can either change their ways or face a decline in sales. Maybe “green” companies could try the same approach.

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  22. I feel like solar panels will are increasingly because used due to the decrease in the price and the increase in efficiency. Connected with the Tesla battery the solar panels have minimum downside. Most peoples roast on solar power is the idea of storms/night time/eclipse, however as the battery technology increases most of this can be removed from any argument. As solar power initial costs decrease companies will become closer and closer to net zero.

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  23. While attaining a net zero society would alleviate our climate change concerns, it seems unlikely to happen. With carbon sequestration technology, we can hopefully one day remove some of the global warming emissions from the atmosphere. A company like Amazon may create their own electricity though renewable means but they have a carbon footprint in many other ways.

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  24. Green buildings are quite remarkable engineering feats however they are very costly to build and that is why there are so few of them. In addition if our end goal is to reduce global carbon emissions putting all this money into buildings that can produce their own energy is not the best way to go. Investing money into large scale green power plants that produce power for a large area is a more cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If laws were passed requiring that every building be zero net carbon the cost to build anything would skyrocket and likely cripple the economy. That said it doesn’t mean nothing should be done but rather that buildings should have the goal of maximizing efficiency and using more sustainably sourced materials. zero net carbon building designs that manage their own waste on site and produce their own energy are too expensive to build and maintain to ever be built in a mass market setting. Zero carbon emissions will need to be reached by changing the way energy is produced at the utility level where efficiency can be maximized and it has the potential to be cost effective.

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  25. I agree with many of my fellow classmates that green buildings are an amazing idea, but they are very costly. But one thing that needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about or planning on placing solar panels on buildings, you also need to think about the weather conditions of the area in which these panels are going to be placed. But I do agree with others that this is a very good idea that we should proceed to try to achieve.

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  26. Green buildings that lead to a greener environment is very important when looking at long-term goals and the sustainability of our future. The biggest problems we have right now about having zero carbon emissions is that there are no federal regulations that are set in place to help regulate these changes and to persuade businesses to change. There are no incentives for businesses either to make these changes and they are very expensive to lead to a net zero carbon emission building. The best thing we can do for our society is to help educate everyone on the importance of these changes and the need to make them quickly.

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  27. The idea of net zero Carbon emissions is ideal and is a good thought. However, I want to ask is this not a pebble thrown into a pond? Building and home carbon emissions are not by far the largest emitters of Carbon. Sources such as fossil fuels and electricity generation are. Why not combat sources that have a greater impact on Carbon Emission? I want to see some sort of initiative where every country swears to stop using fossil fuels by a certain year.

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  28. Government enforcement of net zero carbon emissions seems realistic if it were introduced and worked into practice rather than force-feeding industry a ton of new regulations at once. This is an urgent issue, no doubt, but time must be allowed for adjustment to these new practices. This is also an expensive push and might need to be incentivized to get companies on board. Personally, I think a great deal of this push for green buildings and energy efficiency comes from cultural values and public support. For the most part, it’s doable but not to the 100% that is being aimed for.

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  29. I believe our technology is heading the right direction and reducing carbon emission is becoming a higher priority among companies, but I do not think it is going to zero. In order to not produce any carbon emission will mean for every single industry to change their style, and asking companies to do that can be difficult. Regulations can change and get more stricter, and some companies may become complete zero emissions, however the some manufacturing companies have no alternatives for how their product is made. In order to get zero-waste, we would have to change the lifestyle of the people, where they are choosing the type of products they buy and use.

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  30. Companies usually don’t seem to change a whole lot unless faced by two different avenues, the ability the make more money and the ability to not lose money. Unfortunately, the average consumer does not care about a companies carbon footprint, so there is no major loss in revenue for bad practices. So the other avenue of incentivizing these companies to reduce their carbon footprint seems like the only viable option. A fee on carbon would provide an economic incentive to reduce our energy use, and a fee that increased over time would encourage businesses to invest in sustainable energy technologies in an attempt to not lose money flow. Or perhaps instead of a fee, a stipend could be offer for carbon reduction could be offered. Either way, these corporations will only care in the language they know how to speak most fluently, money.

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  31. The only way to achieve this goal by 2050 is by education and regulation. If the government places some sort of benefit to producing buildings that have net zero emission or converting already existing buildings to net zero than the problem will fix itself. When it comes down to environmental issues nothing pushes people more than monetary compensation.

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  32. I believe it’ll be hard to control small startups and businesses as it is difficult enough starting out without expensive net zero building designs or carbon credits. I believe the main focus would have to be on the big businesses that already have a strong foothold. However, the big businesses provide millions of jobs to the public and increasing their costs may hurt the economy which would slow down our goal to net zero. I personally believe we’ll have to attack it through power generation since they are government permitted monopolies and would cut down on carbon impacts of all buildings across the board. Swapping over to renewable power would allow a smaller carbon footprint of all existing and future buildings.

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  33. This goal does not seem very achievable to me. In order to have zero carbon buildings, more sources of renewable energy must exist in order for the buildings that are connected to the grid to gain access to zero carbon energy. Additionally, this would include all residential homes as well; these homes would also need to either have their own solar panels or have a renewable source of power from the grid. It would not be fair, in my opinion, to put this responsibility on home owners as well as small businesses as they may not be able to afford the changes. If this were to happen, it would have a be a change within power companies and the type of energy they provide to the grid.

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    1. Solar panels and other sustainable building methods are indeed important to achieving the net zero goal by 2050, however there are consequences associated with solar panels that people are unaware of. The primary consequence of solar are the rare earth minerals required to manufacture the photo voltaic cells and the other primary components of a solar panel. If 100% of the worlds buildings had some sort of solar system in place, it is worth considering that the resource extraction of the raw materials for those panels would cause irreparable harm to the lithosphere, if not the surrounding biosphere. All in all the tradeoffs must be considered, however the full weight of the trade offs won’t be realized until mass production of solar panel technology occurs.

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  34. I think this is a really a challenge that individual businesses need to take on. I don’t think many construction companies are interested in learning how to build net-zero buildings, and I think trying to regulate this would get caught up in partisanship in Congress. However, I believe many great companies out there want to lead the public in green building and environmental efficiency. What Amazon did will definitely set a precedence for many other companies to follow, especially because of the sheer magnitude of Amazon.

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  35. I feel like the key factor to transitioning smaller businesses and domestic buildings towards this trend lies with incentives. The most challenging part about constructing a “green” or energy efficient building is the start-up capital. Obviously if you are installing energy efficient, durable, and higher quality materials into your project, the initial investment is much more substantial than for any other ordinary building. However, when you compare these costs to the amount of energy and carbon being saved through the efficiency of the building, the initial investment is normally paid back within the first year.

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  36. While this goal would be a great thing to achieve, I feel like it is pretty much impossible to pull of by 2050. The reason for this lies in the economics of it. Creating a building or home to operate with zero carbon emissions is generally not the cheapest thing. This will be especially difficult in poorer more heavily populated countries where the goal is to provide as many people with resources for as cheap as possible. For countries and places like these, sadly the last thing they’re worried about is their carbon emissions.

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  37. I think that this is certainly a step into the right direction. I believe that as larger companies such as Amazon continue investing in and utilizing solar technology, the technology will become cheaper and more affordable, thus making it an attractive option for smaller mom and pop businesses. This trend has been observed it pretty much every technology. Some companies have already made huge investments in solar technology, such as Apple and their new headquarters, Apple Park, as well as Tesla and their new net zero Gigafactory. Can’t wait to see who is next.

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