How Buildings Produce Carbon Emissions

The awareness with regard to how buildings are one of the primary carbon polluters of the climate is gaining exceeding attention because of how controllable the (ill) effects are. Statistically speaking, buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions as per the US Green Building Council. Second to the buildings is transportation at 33% which is conventionally more attuned with the visuals of carbon dioxide fumes occupying the air.
Understanding Building Emissions
This is how a building emits carbon
“Carbon emissions or carbon footprint of a building is measured by totaling the carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere during the production of the energy that is consumed by a building for all its operations.” The emissions are usually a result of fuel combustion. They occur on-site as a result of an oil/gas boiler and off-site perhaps at a power plant to generate current.
The United Nations Environment Program accounts for at least 39% of global energy use by buildings. As for the US, it’s the residential & commercial or privately owned buildings that contribute to approximately 40% of energy consumption (US Energy Information Administration).
The building emissions are essentially compartmentalized into two - “operational building emissions” (28%) & “embodied carbon of a building” (11%)

Operational building emissions  Embodied carbon of a building 
  • Powering 
  • Lighting 
  • HVAC 
  • Carbon generated through manufacturing  
  • Building materials 
  • transportation  
  • Construction  

Moreover, another category can be that of direct and indirect emissions.

Direct Emissions   Indirect Emissions  
  • When carbon dioxide is directly released as a form of combustion due to the utilization of equipment.
  • Examples revolve around heaters, burners, furnaces, etc.
  • It’s important to understand that all these logistical functions that are fossil fuels based have renewable alternatives in the form of solar photovoltaic systems.  
  • Emissions that cannot be sourced to the locale of the building make the indirect emissions.
  • For example, if you have outsourced your energy supply, then the emissions will be attributed to the power station.
  • It’s important to realize that matters are still in our control with alternatives that are energy efficient.  

No matter the type, location, or logistics, alternatives that incorporate environmental consciousness are readily available. If you do not know where to begin, we recommend reaching out to a green engineering firm like The Cotocon Group. They will have all the answers to all the questions you have now and will have in the future too. They have a demonstrated history of providing compliance services in New York City to building owners that helps acquire LEED certifications of all categories. In the meantime, consider taking the following steps to kickstart your decarbonization process.
1. Choose carbon sequestering materials
2. Maximize structural efficiency
3. Operator and occupant training
4. Optimized HVAC
5. Check water usage
6. Use recycled content
7. Use efficient lighting (sensors, LEED, PE, etc)
The AIA has recently released a “Climate Action Plan” which revolves around an evolved form of architecture that successfully incorporates the climate change narratives in a way that also climate-proofs the buildings. This is with regard to energy-efficient design, construction, a focus on renewability, etc.
Moreover, NYC has also launched The Climate Mobilization Act. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation enacted in May of 2019. It was designed to reduce New York City’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (2030), and up to 80% (2050).
This set of legislations is deemed highly penal in cases of non-compliance which is tied to harsh financial penalties that get worse over time. (For example, a 1 million sq ft commercial office building that is just 10% above the 2024 carbon limit will be looking at a penalty of about $230,000 every year till 2029. From 2029 to 2030, the permissible carbon limit will be further reduced by a staggering 50% equating to a $1,200,000 penalty every year till 2034.)

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January 26th, 2023
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