The human population is estimated to reach 10 billion people by 2060. Correspondingly, development of building spaces is predicted to add 2 trillion more square feet of construction material to the environment.
With such rapid growth, what steps can we take to inspire innovation while supporting clean renewable energy and a carbon footprint reduction?
Let’s first take a look at carbon and our carbon footprint.
What is Carbon?
Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the Universe. Carbon is forged from the heart of aging stars. Carbon is essential to life on Earth. It plays a fundamental role in biology for creating complex organic molecules. We are made of carbon. We need carbon to survive. We eat carbon. We are built on carbon. The earth needs carbon in balance to thrive.
Most of Earth’s carbon is stored in rocks totaling about 65,500 billion metric tons. The rest of the stored carbon is in the ocean, atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels.
The Carbon Cycle
This planet is a continuous filtration system, from the atmosphere, to rainfall, to oceans, rivers, and streams, to bed rock, volcanoes, tectonic shifts, and of course plants being the lungs of the earth. Natural chemistry regulates this dance between ocean, land, and atmosphere.
Carbon shifts and flows between each reservoir called the carbo cycle, with both fast and slow components, changing throughout the seasons and years. Slow carbon cycles through nature can take up to 200 million years. Fast carbon cycles process much quicker thanks to plants and phytoplankton through absorption in conjunction with the sun’s energy. Over long term there is balance, creating stability in temperature, like a thermostat.
Our Human Impact – The Carbon Footprint
The carbon footprint is heating things up though. Carbon dioxide, in harmony with other primary green house gases likes water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, absorb and emit radiant energy in a dance that causes the greenhouse effect.
When excessive amounts of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from everything we do as individuals and businesses the imbalance impacts our planet. Humans emit billions of tons of carbon annually, adding stress to the natural cycle.
The construction sector alone emitted more than a third of global energy-related carbon dioxide, a record 10 gigatonnes (10 billion tons) in 2019, as reported in the United Nations Environment Programme.
Carbon Strategies - Housing and Commercial Construction
Net zero, a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere, and can be achieved by utilizing innovations like:
- Sustainable architecture and construction materials
- Recycled demolition
- Prefabricated materials
- Recycled steel, bamboo, reclaimed wood
- Solar panels
- Energy efficient appliances
- Transformative materials, biogenetic materials like living concrete
- Optimizing natural light and solar thermal gains
Organizations Stepping in the Right Direction
On the front end of construction, the design stage is the greatest determining factor on a building’s lifetime of carbon emissions. Online companies like Kompozite are helping designers, architects, constructors, and real estate developers design and build sustainably through a customized digital platform.
Embodied energy, the amount of energy utilized for constructing the structure, and operational energy, the amount of energy required for functioning the house are both taken into consideration. If a building already exists, deconstructing, and carefully dismantling for potential reuse is also a critical part of the carbon footprint equation.
Additionally, Organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council offer graded certification of energy-efficient designs to help guide the industry to better practices.
Equally helpful is WELL, a certification process providing a roadmap for improving the quality of air, water and light with inspired design decisions that not only keep people connected, but also facilitate sleeping well, support our mental health and help people optimize performance.
Simultaneously, on the other end of construction, companies like Recapturit provide an avenue for inevitable deconstruction and architectural salvage materials to easily reach customers nationwide thereby saving reusable material from landfills.
Join the Dance with Your Footprint
Andrew Himes, Director of Collective Impacts at the Carbon Leadership Forum states that too much carbon in the wrong place is the truth of the problem. “It’s a dance of carbon atoms. We just need to learn how to be better dancers,” he said.