The Urgency of Climate Action: Time is Not on Our Side
A common misconception is the belief that we have 30 years to initiate change. However, this isn’t the case; we have significantly less time to act. Leading climate experts argue that the 1.5-degree limit is now unrealistic. To attain this target by 2050, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would need to decrease by 15% per year, every year. According to the AR6 report, under almost all emission scenarios, global warming is expected to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius by the early 2030s without drastic changes. Limiting warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius now seems at least plausible.
Buildings and Automobiles: Key Players in Climate Change Mitigation
Among all industries, buildings and automobiles hold the highest potential for reducing climate change. We have the power to make smarter decisions now and pivot more quickly because technological solutions are readily accessible. In contrast, other industries like aviation will need more time to develop low GHG fuels or electrify planes.
The Business Opportunity of Our Time: Sustainable Buildings
We are presented with an unprecedented business opportunity. As per the World Resources Institute, the building industry in the United States contributes to 58% of total GHG emissions. This makes our industry half the problem and, optimistically, half the solution!
Our main task is to significantly draw down carbon. Carbon is a proxy metric that represents various greenhouse gases (GHGs). The most significant among these are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (NO2), Fluorinated gases (refrigerants), and Methane (CH4). These gases play different roles in the construction and operation of buildings:
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2): This is emitted from burning fossil fuels like natural gas, propane, diesel, and certain chemical reactions (e.g., the manufacture of cement). CO2 is removed from the atmosphere (or sequestered) when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
- Nitrous Oxide (N2O): This is emitted during the combustion of fossil fuels.
- Fluorinated Gases: These powerful gases are used in refrigerants and have a high Global Warming Potential.
- Methane (CH4): This gas is emitted during the production and transport of fossil fuels and the decay of organic waste in landfills.
In summary, our industry has a pivotal role to play in combating climate change. We possess the technology and know-how to create and adapt our built environment to be part of the solution, rather than the problem. By making informed, sustainable decisions now, we can help ensure a safe, healthy planet for future generations.