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Most Green Buildings Aren’t Actually Carbon-Neutral, Experts Say

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Most Green Buildings Aren’t Actually Carbon-Neutral, Experts Say

The truth about carbon-neutral building proves that builders still have a long way to go to combat costly emissions, but with new innovations popping up every day, a net-zero future is in reach

February 3, 2022
Carbon neutral home building
Image: Stock.adobe.com

Nearly every step of residential development involves the production of harmful greenhouse gases, and even existing buildings contribute about 40% of global carbon emissions, according to Curbed, but a life-cycle approach to green building focuses on top-notch quality to create homes that stand the test of time. Many net-zero homes under construction now aren’t even close to being carbon neutral, experts say, but by accounting for embodied carbon in building materials and being accountable for that pollution, builders can raise the bar for green building strategies of the future.

True carbon-negative construction is possible, but wildly ambitious, involving innovative materials like biobricks and other self-cleaning architecture still in the early stages of development. Still, builders can cut down their individual emissions by opting for environmentally sourced materials and testing out existing green building methods until more efficient carbon-capture technology is readily available.

Until recently, the effort to mitigate the damage has focused almost exclusively on operational efficiency, which comes into play as soon as the building is complete. We have an array of effective new techniques for keeping the temperature comfortable, the lights on, and the water running, all on a shrinking carbon budget. Now, though, engineers, contractors, developers, and architects like Howland are starting to recognize that they’ve tackled the easiest challenge first. The next job is to cut embodied carbon, the kind produced by quarrying, logging, milling, smelting, firing, manufacturing, assembling, shipping, trucking, digging, carting, craning, pouring, glazing, polishing, installing, glazing, and all the other steps that lead up to opening day.

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