Net Zero Carbon Buildings: Why, What and How? MIPIM Connect report

This is the first in a series of MIPIM Connect session reports from partner schools. First up: France’s ESSEC, on the Net Zero Carbon Buildings session, with the UK Green Building Council‘s Julie Hirigoyen.


Global warming is happening at an accelerating pace, making its mitigation a critical challenge. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been increasing since the Industrial Revolution. Faced with this unprecedented situation, international diplomacies progressively understood the urgent need to take actions. In 2015, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, more than 196 countries committed to achieve the ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Is the built environment playing a role in achieving this objective?

The MIPIM Connect session with Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) showed that CO2 emissions attributed to the built environment are significant and problematic and explained that the built environment has a key role to play in mitigating global warming. Overall, the session advocated for a complete transition towards Net Zero Carbon Buildings by 2050 and highlighted the ins and outs of what appears to be a critical solution for the built environment to become more sustainable and mitigate climate change.


Net Zero Carbon Buildings: a critical solution to climate change

The built environment is responsible for:

  • 40% of worldwide energy consumption
  •  30% of worldwide carbon emissions
  •  30% of worldwide resource consumption


Therefore, the built environment has a key role to play in mitigating global warming and net zero carbon buildings seem to be a critical solution.

“A net zero carbon building is highly energy efficient with all remaining energy from on-site and/or off-site renewable sources” – Julie Hirigoyen


The World Green Building Council, whose goal is to advocate for and develop a better and more sustainable built environment, has set two main deadlines for the transition towards net zero carbon buildings.

“By 2030, all new buildings must operate at net zero carbon” – Julie Hirigoyen


By that time, new buildings will need to have reduced their embodied carbon by about 40%.

By 2050, 100% of buildings must operate at net zero carbon. This final aim is to achieve net zero carbon throughout the whole life of the building (construction, operation, end-of-life and beyond the lifecycle) by 2050.


How to achieve the transition towards Net Zero Carbon Buildings by 2050?

In order to achieve this transition by 2050, the UKGBC set out a framework with targets and specific guidance.

  • Establish scopes.

Two main scopes were defined in order to tackle issues related to carbon emissions for both new buildings constructed (Net Zero Carbon – Construction) and existing buildings (Net Zero Carbon – Operational Energy).


  • Reduce construction impacts.

The amount of carbon emissions associated with the products and processes used for a building’s construction needs to be significantly reduced until achieving a null or negative level by 2030.

For any new building, a whole life carbon assessment should be undertaken in the design phase in order to forecast and measure the carbon emissions associated with every stage of that building’s life cycle. The objective is to identify the best combined opportunities to reduce the overall emissions of the building and avoid any unattended consequences.


  • Reduce operational energy use.

The amount of carbon emissions associated with the buildings’ operational energy uses on an annual basis must be zero or negative. By 2050, buildings will have to be highly energy efficient with either on-site or off-site renewable energy sources.


  • Increase renewable energy supply.

The transition towards the use of renewable energy is essential to reduce the impacts of the construction and operational use of a building. However, this transition requires to increase renewable energy supply together with buildings’ energy efficiency since, by definition, renewable energies are relatively rare.


  • Offset any remaining carbon.

The WorldGBC encourages people and businesses to counteract unavoidable carbon emissions, through the purchase of carbon offsets, which are aimed at funding projects that reduce GHG emissions. Although carbon offsets are voluntary, there are a sort of penalty approach to driving more efficient and sustainable buildings.


  • Improve measurement, verification and transparency

People and businesses are asked to measure the actual energy consumption and carbon emissions of their building and to publicly disclose them on an annual basis.


  • Encourage action today and tighten requirements over time

To conclude, the built environment truly has a powerful mean to mitigate climate change by engaging into a transition towards Net Zero Carbon Buildings. However, the achievement of such an ambitious goal of having all buildings operating at net zero carbon by 2050 requires the engagement and commitment of all stakeholders (businesses & organizations, cities, states, regions, etc). Therefore, the WorldGBC developed the “Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment” in order to encourage businesses (owners, developers, tenants) and regional authorities to officially commit to zero carbon. As of today, they have received signatures from 48 businesses & organizations, 28 cities and 6 states & regions.

“The objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C cannot be achieved without urgently taking actions to transform the built environment” – Julie Hirigoyen


Hirigoyen concluded by calling for actions from anyone interested in acting for a better and more sustainable built environment.

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Student of the Real Estate and Sustainable Development Chair ESSEC Business School

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