Specific environmental goals set in 2015 outlined a 15-year timeline to achieve certain human and environmental goals by 2030. With companies carrying much of the burden to make the required changes to achieve these goals, they need to have a plan, and quickly.  

Net-zero is achievable 

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) states that reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is increasingly becoming the minimum societal expectation for companies. To halve emissions in the next eight years and eliminate them before 2050, means businesses still have some time, but they need to start today.  

Evaluate current operations 

To make changes, a company must identify current operational standards of its supply chain, transportation, packaging, waste, material selections and manufacturing. Similar questions apply to the design and construction of buildings. 

Measure carbon footprint 

For each category within a business, an accurate measurement is needed about where it stands environmentally:  

  • How much plastic is used in product packaging?  
  • How far are supplies and finished products being shipped? 
  • Are buildings run on renewable energy?  

For construction sites, the questions may include: 

  • What happens to the packaging of materials on site during construction? 
  • Are the chosen materials locally produced or imported? 
  • Is the building energy efficient? 

Set targets 

A company chooses a target year and uses science-backed calculations to set targets and actions for each business unit to achieve reductions. The SBTi outlines wording for targets to ensure specificity: “Company X commits to reduce emissions from forestry and land-use and agriculture by 80% by 2035, from a 2019 base year.” Or: “Green Star buildings will reduce upfront emissions by 40% by 2030.” 

Map out initiatives 

The SBTi has developed a global science-based standard and tools for companies to set net-zero targets and reach them. Each business’ plan will look different but will typically start small and rise to the bigger, pricier adaptations, with near- and long-term goals. These could include: 

  • Removing plastic and replacing it with recyclable paper packaging. 
  • Looking at the supply chain. 
  • Finding local suppliers to eliminate transport emissions.  
  • Transitioning manufacturing lines to solar power or other types of renewable energy. 

The lifecycle assessment (LCA) is a tool that allows for the estimation of all impacts, including carbon emissions, for building materials – from the raw material extraction phase to manufacturing, packaging and transport, on to the fate of the product at the end of its initial “life”. 

Use carbon offsets 

Carbon offsets balance the equation between a business’ carbon footprint by investing in activities such as planting trees, i.e., the carbon absorbed by the trees counterbalances that produced by the business. While many companies rely heavily on carbon offsets early in the transition towards net-zero, the goal is to eventually earn net-zero status without the need for these.  

Could the greening of roofs or facades provide a carbon offset for less sustainable materials used in older buildings? 

Maintain and re-evaluate 

While target net-zero goals are set, they are not always achieved as major changes to a business are rarely easy, so constant monitoring and adaptations are needed. 

In architecture, ask the difficult questions about the lifecycle of the building and keep innovating to decarbonise projects. 

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to www.inhabit.comhttps://www.ceramica.info/ for the information in this editorial. For more information, visit https://sciencebasedtargets.org/. 

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