According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the building sector accounts for nearly 50% of all energy consumed and almost 75% of fossil fuels (liquid, gas, or coal) consumed in the U.S. Byway of comparison, this is about the same amount of energy consumption as the transportation and industrial sectors combined, which consume about 30% and 20%, respectively, of all U.S. energy. Correspondingly, the building sector accounts for almost 50% of dangerous climate-impacting US CO2 emissions, while the transportation and industrial sectors account for about 35% and 21% of US CO2 emissions, respectively. Suffice it to say, it is a common misconception that the “smokestack” industrial sector emits more CO2 and other greenhouse gasses than the building sector. In fact, it doesn’t come close.
The fight against climate change requires collective action on a variety of fronts; there are no quick fixes or “silver bullets” to expeditiously reduce worldwide emissions to mitigate the damages caused by climate change. However, the consumption and emission percentages show us where we can get the most bang for our buck: reducing the energy demand of buildings.
Another common misconception about energy consumption is that commercial buildings are the primary culprits. In fact, homes account for about 55% of the total energy consumed while commercial buildings account for the remainder. As of 2010, the breakdown of the fuel sources for the building sector was 75% fossil fuels while nuclear and renewables trailed behind at a paltry 16% and 9%, respectively. In short, the building sector has a voracious energy appetite and, arguably, when triaging climate change solutions, the building sector is the “patient” most deserving in the order and priority of “treatment” in fighting climate change.
To be sure, over the long-term, in the battle against climate change, the two-front challenge of supplanting our energy supply from sources other than fossil fuels and decreasing overall energy demand must be addressed. Here, however, I wanted to call attention to a critically important initiative, the 2030 Challenge, which encompasses the magnitude and expediency required to tackle the energy demand side of the building sector, the major culprit in harmful fossil fuel emissions. The 2030 Challenge sets forth an incremental set of targets reflecting progressively higher reductions in the use of fossil fuel energy over the “make or break” upcoming decades, a critical window of opportunity where our actions or inactions will, according to the most reputable scientific studies, shape the future of our planet.
The 2030 Challenge
The Challenge is a call to action for building sector professionals, architects, property owners, developers, and the like, to significantly and swiftly reduce the energy demands of newly built and renovated buildings. For 2015, the target is for all new buildings and major renovations be designed so that their energy consumption is 70% below the regional average for those building types. In 2020, the target is set at 80% below and, in 2025, at 90% below. Finally, by 2030, buildings should be carbon neutral with a net zero carbon footprint. Clearly, these targets are ambitious, but necessary, in a war we can’t afford to lose.
The 2030 Challenge is a paradigm for the types of aggressive, timely targets that are required globally in all sectors if we are going to get serious about stopping global warming. Importantly, the 2030 Challenge targets for the building sector are not pie in the sky dreams; they are happening right now in cities across the U.S.
Who is signing on to the Challenge?
Pioneering cities that are ambitious, concerned, and want to be part of the solution. Cities that are taking the lead include Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Denver, Stamford, San Francisco, and, our progressive neighbor to the north, Toronto.
Transitioning to Green become involved with the Challenge along with Stamford’s decision to participate. Specifically, New England’s largest utility, Eversource Energy (previously Northeast Utilities), a partner of the Stamford 2030 initiative, engaged with us to collaborate with property owners, developers, and planners in the area who would be key players during the next decade for meeting the 2030 Challenge.
There are turning points in mankind’s short history, often dictated by necessity, where we must rise to the occasion and meet a certain “challenge” that will make our world a better place for the next generation and beyond. For us at Transitioning to Green, the 2030 Challenge is a prime example of such an initiative. We are proud to be part of it.