Low Carbon Design is a philosophy that aims to reduce carbon emissions that originate from a building’s construction and throughout its entire life cycle. With the construction industry responsible for significant portions of global greenhouse gas emissions, the current climate of the industry is ripe for change. Low Carbon Design is a philosophy built on holistic principles that requires optimization and design for reduced emissions, lower thermal demands, and optimal project location (Oschendorf, 2011).
In dense urban cities such as Hong Kong, an estimated 90% of emissions come from buildings’ energy demands. Buildings are also responsible for the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States (Deng, 2018). With such a severe hand in global greenhouse emissions, the building sector offers an opportunity to make an extremely large impact with technologies and philosophies that have already been established and researched.
The key to understanding Low Carbon Design is in understanding why it can be so challenging to implement. Designing for low carbon, also known as carbon-neutral, buildings requires the collaboration of engineers and architects beginning from the very early stages of building design and design iterations in order to adapt to different challenges (Oschendorf, 2011).
In order to successfully incorporate low-carbon strategies into a project, certain factors have to be taken into account, such as the architecture, orientation, and climate of a project. Integrating strategies for heating and cooling, reduced water demand, and passive lighting are some of the ways a project can be shaped for a more carbon-neutral outcome. Successfully implementing these strategies requires heavy integration and involvement by project engineers from the early stages of design and development (Oschendorf, 2011). Engineers are typically not involved in projects this early, but in order to successfully apply low-carbon strategies, they must be.
The building sector provides a unique opportunity to face this challenge. This is because it is home to one of the most cost-effective platforms to combat greenhouse emissions. While low-carbon design strategies produce greater costs in the short term, their long-term benefits, specifically with respect to energy demands, can save millions. In having such a significant impact on different projects, low-carbon buildings would eventually pay for themselves by reducing costs against industry standards (UCOP, 2019).
It is abundantly clear that low-carbon design and project demands, cost demands, time and application of sustainable practices may not be as black and white on paper versus in practice. Measuring and optimizing energy demands of a project can be like counting calories; its’s a lot easier to skip the nutrition labels and go straight to the meal.
Thankfully, it is much easier to learn to count calories than it is to learn the Building Information Modelling (BIM) strategies and full integration techniques of low-carbon design. Just like high-calorie food can be often cheaper than healthier counterparts, normal designs that do not account for strategies such as the aforementioned holistic design and low-carbon strategies can be a lot cheaper to finance and maintain (in the short term).
So how do we push the narrative and salvage an industry that is responsible for such a large portion of carbon emissions? Often times a person will not go to the gym and start exercising until they simply have no clothes that fit them comfortably anymore. When it comes to building emissions, we are nearing that tipping point.
Climate change is affecting more and more lives every day and the earth’s temperatures are posting record highs - and lows. Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transportation, and industries are pouring into the atmosphere and causing the single greatest challenge that has ever affected mankind.
As a result, the onus is to push industry standards towards low carbon design. This is necessary to educate the masses and to provide unique solutions to each project and to continue to research and develop more effective ways to implement low-carbon strategies. We may have to pay more in the short term, but if we do not, we face a steep price down the road.
Oschendorf, J. (2011). Challenges and Opportunities for Low Carbon Buildings. https://www.nap.edu/read/13274/chapter/16.
Gan, V., Deng, M., Tse, K., Chan, C., Lo, I. and Cheng, J. (2018). Holistic BIM framework for sustainable low carbon design of high-rise buildings. Journal of Cleaner Production, 195, pp.1091-1104.
UC Carbon Neutral Buildings Cost Study. (2019). [ebook] Point Energy Innovation, pp.1-53. Available at: https://www.ucop.edu/sustainability/_files/Carbon%20Neutral%20New%20Building%20Cost%20Study%20FinalReport.pdf [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].