Carbon Neutral Buildings

LEED® and other green building protocols are thought of as a first step towards a more sustainable building industry. However, Carbon Neutral buildings are the next generation of green buildings which address a host of new, more stringent requirements with respect to environmental standards in the building industry. There are at least four different levels of carbon neutral buildings as defined by Terri Meyer Boake:

Zero Net Energy Buildings: Buildings that on an annual basis use no more energy than what’s provided by on-site renewable energy sources. The building can still produce carbon by burning biofuels such as biomass, wood chips, other waste, etc. Only the operating energy is considered in the analysis.

Carbon Neutral Buildings: Like Zero Net Energy Buildings, but no carbon is produced from renewable energy sources (ex. wind, solar, etc.). Only the operating energy is considered in the analysis.

Holistic Carbon Neutral Buildings: Reduce the carbon emissions associated with all aspects of the project. This includes the construction, materials, and operating energy. Both operating energy and embodied energy of the building materials are considered in the analysis.

Complete Carbon Neutral Buildings: Like Holistic Carbon Neutral Buildings, but also includes the transportation energy, the building function, and the carbon contribution from occupant transportation. This is the most rigorous definition of a carbon neutral building and includes all aspects of carbon emissions such as the operating energy, the embodied energy of the building materials, the transportation energy, and the overall building function.

"Carbon Neutral buildings are the next generation of green buildings which address a host of new, more stringent requirements with respect to environmental standards in the building industry."

Currently, there are only a handful of buildings that can be considered to be true carbon neutral buildings. The reality is that as an industry, the Building sector is still decades away from achieving carbon neutrality. However, given recent trends in energy prices over the last few years, the need and desire for carbon neutral buildings will only increase. Many challenges still face the building industry with respect to carbon neutral buildings, such as creating an accurate and standardized procedure for counting carbon, as well as finding ways to harvest and deliver renewable energy at an affordable cost.