What is a truly holistic approach to designing for Net-Zero Carbon?

News Detail




Buro Happold

Buildings can play an active role in achieving net-zero carbon. For this to happen, we need to develop a holistic approach to designing new projects.

While today it can often feel as though building sustainably is a matter of meeting requirements, receiving accreditations and ticking the appropriate boxes, in order to truly do the least harm to the environment we need a more holistic approach to design. Designs should be based on a synergy between project programme, construction methodology and energy demand. When combined and considered simultaneously and with equal priority, these three aspects offer a way for architects, engineers and builders to arrive at net zero.


Whole life net-zero carbon as the new standard

When we talk about a green transition in the building industry, we increasingly talk about net-zero carbon buildings. Net zero refers to the carbon emitted by the construction and operation of a building, counterbalanced by the energy generated on-site and exported to the grid. There are two ways in which a building can contribute to carbon emission: through embodied carbon, linked to the emissions associated with sourcing materials and construction processes, and through operational carbon resulting from the day-to-day use of a building.

Net-zero carbon can be reached by using carbon-neutral construction materials, such as timber, or by offsetting the emissions related to the construction of a building over time by generating renewable energy on-site. Building with net-zero carbon as a goal must become a guiding principle in the architecture, engineering and urban planning professions.

A project’s success in achieving net-zero carbon relies on an approach that balances three key aspects:

  1. the energy concept
  1. the building function, including reduction of the building’s energy demands
  1. the construction, including the use of carbon-intensive or carbon-storing materials.

Adopting a holistic approach to these aspects fundamentally changes the planning process. Building sustainably is no longer only about receiving certifications, but rather about reading a project and a context closely to identify opportunities and make the right, specific decision.

More info

Want to stay up to date?

Sign up to our mailing list to receive regular updates on the most exciting news, research, case studies, and events related to sustainable design.