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CONSTRUCTION CORNER: The push for net-zero by 2050

Korky Koroluk
CONSTRUCTION CORNER: The push for net-zero by 2050
Korky Koroluk

A couple of intriguing items have cropped up on my screen lately. Both were cause for hope — a rare commodity in these seemingly grim times.

One was about a group of international business leaders, dubbed the B Team, by Sir Richard Branson when he launched the group a year or so back.

Now the B Team is calling for world leaders to commit to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We’ve seen lots of posturing by governments around the world who talk a lot about limiting global warming to 2 C. But we’ve seen little real action. But when global business leaders start demanding action, we just might get it.

The B Team wants an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, shifting that money instead to speed development of renewable energy solutions "to enable a wider economic transformation." It wants governments and businesses to adopt meaningful, effective carbon prices.

And it wants businesses and governments to ensure that benefits of responses to climate change flow to the most vulnerable and impoverished communities that suffer most from climate change, but are least equipped to cope with its impacts.

All of this represents a clarion call to the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) sector. If more customers demand net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the AEC sector will have no choice but to work to meet that demand.

The B Team says it champions "a new way of doing business that prioritizes people and planet alongside profit — a Plan B for businesses the world over. The old way, it says, Plan A, "where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone, is no longer acceptable."

Just a few days after we heard from the B Team, we heard from fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp. that it is examining the technical and financial feasibility of building net-zero energy restaurants.

McDonald’s is big. It has 36,000 outlets in more than 100 countries. When it sneezes, the whole fast-food industry reaches for a Kleenex.

The Rocky Mountain Industry led the study. Also involved were Fisher-Nickel Inc., a kitchen-equipment technology consultant, and the New Buildings Institute. The study modelled energy use for new, stand-alone restaurants in several cities and found that improving energy performance could achieve energy savings of 60 per cent. They could get down to net-zero energy with photovoltaic arrays installed over roofs and parking lots. When you run a fast-food restaurant, you quickly learn that the real energy hogs are the air conditioning and kitchen equipment. Those items are usually looked at in isolation, but, the New Buildings Institute says there must be a new approach to design, a whole-building approach in which everything is considered as part of the greater whole.

Roy Buchert, energy director for McDonald’s was quoted as saying that the company is optimistic that it can be done, although it’s still too early to have a firm timetable. The point of all this is that businesses are now calling for action on climate change.

I’ve been saying that the construction industry will be called on to build a different sort of building. That began to happen with the runaway success of the LEED certification program. The drive for net-zero will add to the momentum that started with LEED.

Building better buildings is plain good business. As that becomes more and more evident, the laggards will be forced to climb aboard lest they fall too far behind to compete.

If we’re to cope in a warming world, if we’re to have safe and secure places to live and work, if we’re to feed the world’s burgeoning population, the push must come from the business community — globally and locally.

Our governments have already proven that they can’t do the job.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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