The built environment is a profound contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for an astonishing 40% (~14.6 Gt CO2e) of the total annual emissions. It plays a crucial role not only as a consumer of vast natural resources but also as a significant generator of waste and emissions. With the imminent expansion of global floorspace, expected to double by 2060 due to the escalating need for housing, the sector is at a pivotal juncture, necessitating a transformative journey towards sustainability.
Dissecting the Emissions: An Overview
Embodied Carbon: Responsible for 11% of global emissions, embodied carbon covers the emissions from the production, transportation, and assembly of building materials.
Resource Intensity: The built environment commands a substantial share of natural resource consumption, accounting for 30% of total global resource extraction and being responsible for 25% of global solid waste generation.
Operating Emissions: Emissions attributed to building operations, including heating, cooling, and lighting, constitute 29% of the sector’s total emissions.
The Need for Change: Building a Resilient Future
A transformative paradigm shift is essential to meet the rising demands for housing, coupled with a commitment to mitigating emissions. The projected escalation in global floorspace underscores the imperative need for innovative, sustainable practices and strategic planning in the built environment.
Forging a Sustainable Path: Strategies for Transformation
Defossilization: Transitioning away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources and sustainable materials is fundamental in reshaping the built environment.
Circular Economy: Incorporating the principles of a circular economy offers a pathway to sustainability, promoting the efficient use, reuse, and recycling of resources and materials.
Renewable Building Materials: The exploration and integration of renewable, non-timber-based building materials are essential. Bio-based materials and innovations in 'wood-free' alternatives pave the way for sustainable construction practices.
Energy Efficiency and Retrofitting: Prioritizing energy-efficient designs and technologies, along with comprehensive retrofitting practices, are vital in reducing operational emissions and enhancing the overall sustainability of buildings.
The built environment, a significant contributor to global emissions, stands on the threshold of transformation. By cultivating strategies centered around a circular economy, renewable materials, and energy efficiency, the sector can evolve into a resilient, sustainable, and innovative force. This transformative potential holds the promise of aligning the built environment with global sustainability goals, mitigating climate change impacts, and fostering a harmonious coexistence with our planet’s natural ecosystems.