Eco Buildings: Can They Really Be Carbon Neutral?

The very quick answer is, yes, they can and they will actually have to be. Legislation in the UK is going to make it compulsory for all new homes built from 2016 to be completely carbon neutral and the same rule will apply to all commercial buildings from 2019. There is a real need to perfect the technology and the building practices that will make this possible in less than a decade from now.

Constructing an eco building involves looking at every stage of the building’s life – where and how it is built, the materials used, how the building is supplied with power for heating and lighting and the activities of all the people who live or work in it during its lifetime.

Construction Carbon Calculators

Most of the carbon emissions involved in the building process are released in the first year, as the construction is in progress. It is already possible to access online construction carbon calculators that measures something described as embodied carbon. This means that it measures all of the carbon emissions that are produced in the manufacture of each building component, the transport of all those components to the site, the impact of disturbing the site during building, the landscaping methods used and the building’s size.

Choosing the site of the building can be all-important. A building that reclaims a land site that has been used as formerly as an industrial power plant and is then used for an office or educational building surrounded by landscaped grounds obviously has a head start in its bid for carbon neutrality over an industrial building planned for a natural wetlands site.

Other calculators are available to look at the embodied carbon produced during the active life of the building and include offsetting the carbon emissions produced when people in the building go on trips including plane travel, the emissions from heating and lighting and the emissions on maintaining and eventually disposing of all the materials that make up the building.

Good Examples of Eco Buildings

There are only a handful of truly eco-buildings in the world and these are spread far and wide. One is the Aldo Leopold Foundation Headquarters, which are in Wisconsin in the USA. This is claimed to be the most environmentally friendly building ever because it has a carbon footprint of zero. It actually produces 15% more energy than it needs using large banks of solar panels and contributes the excess to the national grid. Highly insulated with large windows to avoid the need for electric lighting, the building has been constructed almost entirely of wood from sustainable sources.

An example of an eco village can be found in the UK. The Beddington Zero Energy Development – or BedZED for short – has won a plethora of awards for its eco design. It is sited in Wallington in South London and includes 100 homes, work for 100 people and plenty of facilities to build a coherent community. Living at BedZED means embracing an eco friendly lifestyle to ensure that the buildings continue to be carbon neutral over the course of their existence.

Malaysia finished building its first zero energy office building in the autumn of 2007. This superefficient building uses as little as 286 kilowatts of power each day and is the office building of the Zero Energy Office. The building is a proof of concept project and studies are following up how well it does – estimates say that it should need no energy at all from the national grid to run on a daily basis.

Eco Towns and Eco Cities

The construction of a truly carbon neutral building is a difficult thing to do but scaling up the process and building whole towns and cities that are carbon neutral will be a real challenge. There are projects ongoing around the world to create such developments – St Davids in the UK is aiming to become the first carbon neutral city in the world. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, also under construction will be carbon neutral, produced no waste and receive all of its power from renewable sources of energy. Similar projects are in progress in China, the USA, Scandinavia, Kenya and Brazil.