New Net-Zero Matrix – Including Nature in Tall Buildings

Luke Leung
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago

In the building design community, the most common definition of “Net-Zero Building” is a building that generates an amount of energy on-site that is equal or greater than its energy consumption. In 2015, the Department of Energy published a list of “Net-Zero Energy” definitions applicable to buildings, campuses, portfolios, and communities based on source energy consumption and generation. This approach allowed analyses to account not just for energy used on-site, but also for energy consumed in the extraction, processing, and transportation of primary fuels. The most common technologies used in our society for energy generation emit carbon dioxide (carbon) into the atmosphere. Carbon is the most important greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Because plants sequestrate carbon during their lifetime, any time that native or adapted vegetation is removed from a land, carbon is virtually released into the atmosphere. The concept of “Net-Zero Carbon” expands the “Net-Zero Energy” idea by linking the energy performance of buildings directly to their impact on the environment, thus accounting for nature. Tall buildings occupy smaller footprints and therefore have a lower de-forestation rate than their low-rise, low-density neighbors. On the other hand, low density development may integrate nature to the neighborhood design. This presentation transplanted the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa into the City of Chicago and compared its carbon footprint to that of an equivalent low-rise residential development. The comparative analysis looked at operational carbon, transportation carbon, and carbon associated with deforestation.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

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