ISSN 2330-717X

From Climate Pledges To Action: New Principles Provide Roadmap For Net-Zero Buildings

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Collective action must be taken to accelerate the decarbonization of buildings, which contribute 38% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. A new action plan released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum offers a set of principles to help companies deliver net-zero carbon buildings and meet key climate commitments.

The Green Building Principles: The Action Plan for Net Zero Carbon provides a clear sequence of steps to deliver net-zero carbon buildings. Developed in conjunction with JLL and the Forum’s Real Estate CEO community, it includes a set of key principles companies can formally adopt along with an action plan on how to implement them.

“The climate crisis is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. It will affect every aspect of our lives and threatens the entire global economy and we must rapidly deploy the solutions we already have in hand to avert its most catastrophic impacts,” said Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States (1993-2001), Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management. “Buildings are a large and often overlooked contributor to this crisis, but with investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, we can begin solving the climate crisis, create tens of millions of jobs, and build a better future.” 

“As increased action on the climate crisis becomes more urgent every year, it’s important that all leaders find new ways to take action,” said Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum. “Business leaders have a great opportunity to take climate action just by ensuring their own offices and properties are sustainable and moving towards a net-zero future. Increasing sustainability in the office, and across value chains, is a critical step for all businesses to take.”

“2021 has been the year of net zero carbon commitments. As part of this, the built environment has demonstrated leadership with companies, investors, architects, cities, and regions signing up to the Race to Zero,” said Nigel Topping, High-Level Climate Action Champion, COP26 Climate Champions, United Kingdom. “2022 will be the year in which we develop strategies for meaningfully delivering against these net zero carbon commitments. This Action Plan launched by the World Economic Forum provides the guidance that real estate portfolios need to do this in a comprehensive and cost-effective way.”

The Principles

  1. Calculate a robust carbon footprint of your portfolio in the most recent representative year to inform targets
  2. Set a target year for achieving net-zero carbon, by 2050 at the latest, and an interim target for reducing at least 50% of these emissions by 2030
  3. Measure and record embodied carbon of new developments and major refurbishments.
  4. Maximize emissions reductions for all new developments and major refurbishments in the pipeline to ensure delivery of net-zero carbon (operational and embodied) by selected final target year
  5. Drive energy optimization across both existing assets and new developments
  6. Maximize supply of on-site renewable energy.
  7. Ensure 100% off-site energy is procured from renewable-backed sources, where available  
  8. Engage with stakeholders with whom you have influence in your value chain to reduce scope 3 emissions
  9. Compensate for any residual emissions by purchasing high-quality carbon offsets
  10. Engage with stakeholders to identify joint endeavours and equitably share costs and benefits of interventions

The action plan provides globally applicable guidance on best practices to implement the principles for every stakeholder, from owners to occupiers to investors.

Industry Leadership

“The pandemic has underscored the need for action on climate, and buildings provide the perfect opportunity to address a large share of global emissions,” said Christian Ulbrich, Global Chief Executive Officer and President, JLL. “We can and must work to deliver net-zero carbon buildings and the companies that do so first will lead the sector.”

“We must act now, and everyone from engineers to occupiers to investors have to be part of this journey,” said Coen van Oostrom, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, EDGE. “The principles offer the necessary roadmap and companies of all types need to evolve their mindsets around their buildings. We must think in terms of renovation, circularity and digitalization. Viewing the built environment as supportive to societal well-being and the planet is the necessary paradigm shift.”

Ahead of November’s COP26, both the public and private sectors have been making commitments to reduce emissions and reach key climate targets in alignment with the Paris Agreement. These commitments are essential and many of them provide valuable guidance. But the roadmap for meeting these targets has been missing. The new principles and action plan provide that roadmap and help companies implement their existing commitments.

In an open letter also released Tuesday, the Forum’s Real Estate CEO community Co-Chairs Ulbrich and van Oostrom urge their peers, across a wide range of industries, to formally adopt the principles and commit to reducing their buildings-related emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and deliver net-zero carbon real estate portfolios no later than 2050.  

“The World Green Building Council encourages companies to reinforce climate action by adopting the World Economic Forum’s new principles, which set out a clear pathway to deliver net-zero carbon buildings,” said Cristina Gamboa, Chief Executive Officer, World Green Building Council. “The principles are harmonious with our Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and we hope that businesses across all industries take this opportunity to step-up ambition to decarbonize their building portfolios.” 

“We are running out of time and the built environment is critical to mitigate warming,” said Kalin Bracken, Real Estate Lead, World Economic Forum. “This is an issue that goes beyond just the real estate industry. Every industry has a role to play in addressing their real estate footprint and that’s a message we really need to send.”

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