Nexus Between Climate Change and Green Buildings

Page archived as of December 31, 2013

Nexus Between Climate Change and Green Buildings

You've probably seen increased reference to climate change, global warming and greenhouse gases in the same sentence over the past decade. What is climate change, really? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) state "climate change is a long-term shift in the statistics of the weather," caused by the "interactions" of atmosphere, ocean, land, and solar radiation. Water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2) are two types of greenhouse gases. Both these gases help moderate the temperature of Earth's land, oceans and atmosphere. If the balance of CO2 becomes too high or low, the Earth's temperatures are affected.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 100 parts per million per volume (ppmv) since the Industrial Revolution and this number continues to increase. Scientists attribute the rise in CO2 with the rise of the Earth's temperatures. This trend is known as global warming which is linked to glaciers melting, changes to a region's precipitation, drier climates, and warmer ocean waters.

One significant way CO2 is produced is the burning of fossil fuels. Examples of common fossil fuels are gasoline and coal. In 2009, the U.S. Energy Administration concluded buildings are the largest contributor of CO2 emissions. Buildings consume a total of 77% of the electricity produced in the U.S. and 81% of this electricity is produced from coal burning. In order to help reduce and possibly reverse global warming and climate change, our buildings' electricity consumption must be reduced.

Those buildings that attempt to reduce their energy consumption are often referred to as "green buildings". Examples of energy efficient designs or practices include but are not limited to: reduction of artificial lighting, installation of Energy Star appliances, use of natural ventilation and efficient building designs. Today buildings can certify their reduced environmental impact through the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System™. LEED version 3.0 awards more credit points to buildings which are dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint and energy consumption.

Since 2005, the City of Alexandria publically vowed to reduce its own carbon footprint by signing the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The City of Alexandria released its Energy and Climate Change Action Plan 2012 – 2020 (the Plan) on March 14, 2011.  The development of the Plan builds on the work done in developing the Environmental Action Plan 2030 (EAP) by providing information on policies and measures that the City is already undertaking, as well as possible new short-term and medium-term measures to achieve the EAP's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 10% by 2012, 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Moreover, it identifies measures for adapting to the physical and human impacts of climate change.

For further references related to climate change and green buildings see the following links: