Green Building's Next Evolution: Net-Zero

Originally published by: Architecture Source (Australia)September 11, 2012

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The green building sector worldwide has grown at a breakneck pace. While Green Star and LEED certifications have had a huge influence on countless new developments, there is an underlying industry fear that this booming sector will bust.

To avoid this, industries have been rapidly making moves towards mainstreaming sustainable building practices, which offer a greater holistic take on modern development and living. However, doubts still linger over whether or not green building will continue to grow as expected, with many in the industry and in the wider community still placing sustainable development in the ‘environmental only’ category.

New research out of the US, however, shows a much better prognosis for the sector, with a report by think tank Lux Research intimating that green development will not falter given that it is continually evolving. This evolution comes in a way that will offer much-needed assurance for industry doubters, bringing with it the excitement of greater industry challenges, and a much greater industry potential.

According to Lux Research analyst Ryan Castilloux, the focus has been shifted from developments that include green features or a basis of sustainability to a concentrated effort in delivering net-zero carbon buildings. Castilloux explains that in seeking the greatest investment value, venture capitalists are upping their green standards.

“Early (venture capital) investors are looking for exits for the first wave of successful green buildings start-ups and the seeds of the next crop are being sown in on-site generation and sustainable materials,” he says.

 Not only is it logical in a competitive industry for developers to look for the ‘next best thing’ or a practice that provides this greater value – with premium green buildings largely labeled as Grade A space globally – but it also makes sense economically in a post-global financial crisis world.

An extract from the ‘Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition’ conference paper by the US Department of Energy, defines these up and coming green developments, suggesting that “(a) net zero-energy building (ZEB) is a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies.”

Creating buildings of premium quality while reducing or completely removing their reliance on carbon chops running costs and. According to the Scientific American report ‘Net Zero Energy Buildings Take Hold in the US’, this has been a key reason behind the fast evolution of ZEBs, particularly in the US.

“Nearly 40 per cent of the nation’s energy is consumed by homes and commercial buildings, which means that making them more efficient would not only save money but also drastically reduce carbon emissions,” says the report. “So a handful of builders are taking the idea one step further: Why construct a building that uses less energy when we can make one that uses no energy at all?”

Stacey Hobart, communications director at the New Buildings Institute, backs up this notion, citing a distinct growth in the scale of net-zero investment.

“We are seeing commercial examples of larger and more complicated buildings, which I think is a positive sign,” says Hobart. “Most of these buildings are smaller buildings, and most of them are early market adopters.”

It is clear the green interest and investment is stronger than ever. Industries worldwide, but particularly in the US, are showing their strong support of a green evolution.

This sector development heralds a new time for green building – a time that encourages the most aggressive holistic environmental, social and economic action.

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