12 Ways to Improve Climate Change Communications and Campaigns

BY MICHAEL SHANK
COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CARBON NEUTRAL CITIES ALLIANCE

Why 12 Ms?

Environmentalists have long depended on good data and sound science to determine the direction of their advocacy agendas. Climate change campaigns are an excellent example of this. They’re reliant on rigorous modeling, and the science-based estimates and forecasting that follow, to substantiate and legitimate any advocacy effort.

This strategy makes much sense. When advocating for a low-carbon agenda, to prevent further warming of the planet, it’s essential to have solid data on how much carbon is left in our budget (i.e. how much carbon we can still spend or use). Without good data, for example, “2 Degrees Celsius” has little meaning. Thanks to our scientific community, however, we know now that warming above this temperature limit, from pre-industrial levels, would make life inhospitable and eventually uninhabitable.

Here’s where some environmentalists often stop short, however, thinking that the data alone will win the day in transforming the hearts and minds. In fact, there’s been an over-reliance on data in advocacy work, ignoring the myriad ways in which people absorb information, transform thought and self-motivate action. A better approach, especially in a “post-fact world” where science is readily dismissed by some federal governments, would be to mimic the model of a political campaign and to remain in campaign mode for the immediate future.

There are a dozen ways in which the climate community could more effectively amplify its message and improve upon its ability to motivate Americans to act. A dozen ways, as this article shows, to move away from data dependence and toward concerted campaigning. These twelve tacks, if taken in total, can move us closer to climate coherence, where attitudes (in which the majority believes climate change is happening) align with behaviors (in which the majority is doing something about it). Currently, there’s little coherence. Climate attitudes are strong, while climate behaviors are weak. These twelves tips, then, taken together, are, at minimum, a must-try. The days of defaulting to data only are over. Let’s begin.

#1 Messages

There’s too often the assumption that the environmental message (e.g. the seas are rising rapidly and polar bears are imperiled) carries the strongest weight and that there’s inherent impact on the publics when using an ecological frame. The same mistaken assumption applies to messaging with moral overtones, as if there’s an implicit ethical agreement with the audience. Similarly, appeals on the heels of a humanitarian disaster assume some semblance of collective compassion in response. Yet, these are not always the most reliable messages. Not everyone considers themselves an environmentalist. Not everyone operates from a moral framework. And not everyone is so quick to be compassionate, especially when isolationism is trending.

What often reaches the most people are economic, health, security and quality of life messages. And when it comes to climate, we have many. We know how devastating climate change and its causes are to the economy; as an example, governments spend over $5 trillion dollars annually on direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies. We know that free energy – the sun and the wind – brings a formidable return on investment ($10 trillion every year by 2050, with a $19 trillion boost to the world GDP). We know that fossil fuels are killing us, with 7 million people dying prematurely every year due to air pollution. And we know that climate change is a serious security risk and threat multiplier, a matter on which the rich world’s defense ministries agree, imperiling people everywhere due to droughts, rising sea levels, heat waves and hurricanes. And all of this affects quality of life.

This is what most people care about – their pocketbook, their health, their own mortality and, more generally, their quality of life. It’s a selfish sensibility but it’s a dependable one, versus the expectation that an audience will be compassionate enough to care about the environment or anyone else. Messaging, thus, should prioritize economic, health, security and quality of life frames. It’s what resonates.

#2 Messengers

When it comes to climate messengers, we desperately need more diverse and charismatic ones. While this is changing slowly but surely, we don’t need more white men on the front lines of the movement. While a few well-placed white men have done much to move the ball forward on climate campaigns, for example, it’s time for them to step back from the spotlight and support others stepping up. The ‘look and feel’ of the environmental movement isn’t always looking and feeling like the whole of society. But it must if we want the majority to come on board the movement.

There’s also a tendency among some subnational actors to go it alone, forgoing the opportunity to rally messengers, or surrogates, on behalf of the message (remember, we’re in political campaign mode). This happens either because city and state officials don’t have the time to recruit surrogates, and offer some much-needed surround sound, or because they’re not automatically thinking and operating as if they’re in political campaign mode. Regardless, it’s essential to approach every climate project with surrogates on standby – from the business, financial, labor, health and security communities – ready to rally.

#3 Mainstream Majority

When communicating with the mainstream majority, it’s time to let go of the ego that often drives esoteric talk. It’s time to use the lingo that most people use. There is absolutely no need to be grandiloquent in our descriptions of global heating or the technological solutions needed to solve it. We do a serious disservice to the climate movement when we do so. If you look at the most often used words on Facebook, for example, they’re overwhelmingly monosyllabic. The onus is on us, then, within in the climate community, to meet the mainstream majority where they’re at.

We must become adept at the art of translation. Every time we engage the public, we need to be our checking multisyllabic meanderings at the door and speak clearly and succinctly. If we fail to bring along the publics, and fail to use their frames and phrases, then national policy, under new and unfriendly leadership, too often runs ram shod over past progress. Lock in public attitudes, engaging them with their frames and their phrases, and you lock in the policy.

#4 Mass Media

Egocentric tendencies also abound when it comes to working with the media. Many climate advocates want to work only with elite media outlets. This is not uncommon. In the western press, for example, the New York Times or Financial Times gets held up as the gold standard for opinion publishing and anything less is unsuitable. Too many advocates aim for elite newspapers and ignore the papers with mass distribution to the moderate middle and what’s frequently read by the mainstream majority, including what might be considered tabloid. This is a serious oversight. We need to be in the newspapers that are getting read in the diners and hotels across our countries, as well as the local community papers, because that is what people are reading. The same goes with local television and radio as well. Follow the viewership. If we really want to reach the masses, we must be in their media.

#5 Me

Now we are getting into some less frequently tread but equally important frontiers. When it comes to our individual role in any of this climate messaging, it’s critical to walk the talk when leading publicly. The public wants to see consistency in our communication if they’re going to do as we do, say as we say, talk as we talk. Any shortfall, no matter how small, is picked up, torn apart and fed to the media critics. That means throughout our climate advocacy efforts, we’re choosing low-carbon lifestyles.

That means that we’re using mass transit, choosing a plant-based diet, opting for sustainable and organic fashion, flying less, powering and heating our houses with renewable energy and more. Do this and our message sticks. We shield ourselves from the kind of criticism that befalls other highly public climate leaders when their houses are too big, their cars are too heavy emitting, their plane travel is too extensive, etc. Fail to fully confront a sustainable walk and it’ll bite us, as the audience is often ready to pounce and poke holes in any climate action agenda. Let’s make sure we don’t give them any more motivation or material.

#6 Memes

This is an easy one. Make sure that any climate message coming out of our cities is made into a meme for sharing on social media. It may take a minute, but it’s a must. If we can’t translate a meaty message for the myriad social media vehicles out there, we haven’t tried hard enough. Everything and anything can be ‘meme-ified’. And if you’re getting stuck on this M assignment, or don’t know what a meme is, simply ask your in-house millennial or check out the examples here. This is helpful practice in learning to distill a complex message into a basic concept, something hashtag-able. And it’ll undoubtedly help us in other aspects of our communication, too. So, #TryIt.

#7 Moments

This is an obvious one but it’s too often overlooked. As a climate communicating community, we need to do better at tracking the news cycle, seizing the press moment, weighing in when an issue is trending, and responding within the hour/day to a news item. When we wait, the better-staffed and better-funded fossil fuel lobby, and its paid deniers, comment in our absence. Cities need to be able to pivot quickly with a quote or comment if we want to be a part of the story. We can’t wait until tomorrow or next week to weigh in, nor can we afford to let bureaucratic political protocol get in the way of our ability to effect meaningful change. Seizing the press moment may mean circumventing the scheduled status quo. It’s time for the unconventional, or as Al Gore put it in his latest film, it’s time to #BeInconvenient. And that may mean acting immediately, even if it inconveniences our day, dinner or other predetermined endeavor.

#8 Movement-Building

This point concerns the many alliances and compacts and networks out there working on climate change. There are many. The real question is how to best make use of their collective bargaining power. Imagine the might mustered if all subnational groups out there came together under one effort, one campaign, one language. By coordinating communications, the climate threat could be well-emblazoned on the brains of the public citizenry. Frankly, any coordination would be an improvement. Imagine a monthly drumbeat of memes coming out of the climate community. One month could be all about sustainable diets, another month about zero waste, another month about sustainable fashion. Focusing the world’s attention on one action, using the momentum of the entire subnational climate community (since that’s one we have more control over), and building a monthly momentum, using social media and messaging campaigns to support that action. The impact could be mighty.

People want to be part of a movement, as we’ve seen with the student movement globally. It’s attractive. They don’t want to go it alone when it comes to climate action. So, let’s give them a movement. Let them know they’re not alone.

#9 Multiples

Repeat, repeat, repeat. And then repeat some more, especially with climate science and climate action. Keep it simple, then drumbeat the heck out of it. It may seem elementary, but it’s the very thing that’ll create a connection for the consumer, constituent or costumer. There’s lots to be done on the climate front, almost too much for most people. So, to avoid overwhelm or anxiety, keep the ask clear, concise and constantly reiterated. People need to hear it a half-dozen times from the messenger before it starts to sink in. Don’t be afraid of repeating. We do this all the time when it comes to other threats, such as terrorism. We shouldn’t be afraid to do this with our climate campaigns. It should be in every speech, every press event, every action taken, and every campaign.

#10 Mirroring

Find ways to reflect back what your community is doing – on your website, in your communication materials, in your speeches – so that they feel affirmed and featured in their climate action and so that they don’t feel alone while doing it (to our movement point earlier). Build out a page on your website that solely features – using pictures, video, testimonials – the incredible climate action and activities that your community members are taking and doing. Feature a citizen of the week or month and provide positive accolades online and in print material and speeches so that they feel affirmed and validated for doing the right thing. The more they see themselves valued by the city, the more people will want to do the work and reap the same positive reward.

#11 Magic

The art of distraction. It is what magicians do all the time. And it is what GEICO, an insurance company based in the U.S., does brilliantly in its commercials (watch some here). Much of a GEICO ad spot’s air time isn’t spent selling insurance, it’s spent entertaining and distracting the viewer. Only at the end does the ad make the ask clear. Climate advocates could take a lesson from what’s trending in the advertising space. Too often we lead with the ask, the sale, without first entertaining the viewer with a little magic, a little fun. The public wants to enjoy the experience so let’s give them something to enjoy. We don’t have to always lead with what’s serious and substantive. We can tap into the sarcastic and sardonic, and even sexy, to sell our climate wares. In fact, we need to. That’s what people are looking for.

#12 Mimicry

Now, for our last M. A final check on our campaign before launching. The ultimate litmus test for any outreach campaign should be “how would I or my friends or family respond?” to such a campaign. What we, ourselves, like on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, for example, and what the public tends to like, should guide our communications work. Too often we pursue and plan press work that fits a prescribed mold – i.e. what’s been done in the past and what we think we should do – yet it often fails to resonate with the public. If we honestly vet any outreach plan using our own lens (i.e. would we attend such a conference or call to action?), we’ll come a lot closer to efficacy. By mimicking what and how the masses communicate and activate, we make clearer the clarion call for climate action because it’s in a language that they’re already using and understanding.

More Ms…

There are many more Ms out there, to be sure. Hopefully, while reading this, another M came to mind that was missed above. Like “Metrics” for measuring progress, or “Money” for making progress possible – both equally vital to a campaign’s success.

There’s a 13th M that I’ve discussed before. I’ve talked about “Meet-Ups” to encourage cities to meet with reporters and build relationships with the press. Ultimately, all of this above rests on relationships. That’s especially true when it comes to working with the press. A reporter is much more inclined to run with a story if there’s some pre-text, some history, before the press pitch. Subnational leaders, and mayors especially, should be sitting down with the climate reporters and overviewing their city’s emissions and waste reduction strategies, not shying away from identifying the challenges as part of that process.

We need to be a lot more honest and transparent with public storytelling regarding what’s working and what’s not working. There is a tendency among some subnational leaders to wait until a project or product is perfect before going to the press. But that often prevents or precludes the opportunity for reporters to be a part of the process and to translate that process for the public. Meeting up regularly, for coffee or lunch, will help bridge this gap and reframe reporters as allies not antagonists (as some leaders view them) in this work.

But these 12 Ms above will get us started and get us a little closer to capturing the attention of the publics that we’re trying to motivate and mobilize. If every climate campaign going forward integrates at least half of the ideas above, we’ll see a stronger environmental movement emerge. One that tracks closely to what the publics find compelling and one that finds itself more powerful among policymakers and the press. This is all very doable. None of the Ms are out of reach, even for cashless campaigns. All 12 Ms are manageable. Now it’s time to move on them.

 

Building a Ubiquitous Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastucture

Game Changers Deep Dive

Deep Dive Edition #2:
Building a Ubiquitous Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

This edition is part of a series that focuses on each of the Game Changers featured in our recent Game Changers Report.

Contributing Editor: Sture Portvik, Project Manager for Electro mobility, City of Oslo, Agency for Urban Environment

The World’s First Mass Market for Electric Vehicles – The Oslo Case Study

Today, Oslo is the world’s first mass market for electric vehicles. You will not find a higher density of electric vehicles (EVs) anywhere else in the world. More than 50% of all new cars sold in Oslo in 2017 were electric. In 2018, the number increased to more than 60%. This means that more than every second car sold is now an EV.

The sales of EVs are skyrocketing. At the same time, sales of diesel and gasoline cars have dropped, and the sale of diesel cars is in a free fall, especially in the largest cities like Oslo and Bergen (less than 10%). Beginning in 2025, the goal is to sell only zero emission passenger cars and vans and become the world’s first zero emission city by 2030.

A broad political settlement between all political parties and a synergistic interaction between the national government and the City created stability and consistency over time. The Norwegian government made the EVs affordable to buy, while the City made EVs affordable to use, practical and convenient.

A whole package of incentives boosted the sales of electric vehicles in Oslo, including: zero purchasing tax, no value-added tax (VAT), free parking, no road tax, free charging, free passing in the toll gates, free tunnels, free travel with ferries, access to the bus lines, etc. In sum, these incentives made EVs:

  • Affordable to buyno purchasing tax, no VAT
  • Affordable to usefree parking, free electricity, free passing in toll gates
  • Practical to use – access to charging, free parking, bus lines

Going forward, Oslo sees three main challenges:

1. We Need a Faster Deployment of Chargers

Even though Oslo has deployed more chargers per capita than most other cities, the numbers of chargers per EVs are falling behind because of the unexpectedly high growth of EVs. Securing enough chargers in a growing mass market is a major challenge. The challenge is enhanced by the fact that all passenger cars sold will be zero emission by 2025.

The exponential growth of EVs also creates a historic window of opportunity. For the first time, we have a mature mass market of EVs that can help finance the urgently needed green shift in transportation. The solution is available to boost the deployment of chargers, but also to make the charging infrastructure smarter and more efficient.

To achieve this Oslo will:

  • Triple the deployment of new charging points
  • Deploy more fast chargers on the corridors in and out of the City (in close cooperation with private companies)
  • Deploy a large network of semi-quick chargers (7.4 – 22 kW) which can secure higher charging speed and higher turnover of cars
  • Build new indoor parking garages for EVs like the “Fortress” (The World’s first dedicated parking garage for EVs only)
  • Construct new green mobility houses including electric car sharing, bicycle hotels, electric bicycles, electric scooters, and MCs etc.

Starting in March 2019, Oslo will start to charge a small user payment to finance the green shift in mobility. The price for charging will be reasonable and low compared to diesel and gasoline prices. It will also give priority to residents and priority sectors like electric taxis and electric freight vehicles. The City expects that this revenue will be sufficient to finance the needed investments in additional charging infrastructure.

2. We Need to Provide Charging Opportunities for People Living in Multi-Family Buildings

Over 60% of Oslo’s citizens are living in apartments or townhouses in Oslo, not in detached houses and villas with private charging opportunities. This means that not everybody can charge at home, a common but serious challenge to a further electrification of transport in many urban cities.

Home charging is cheaper and more convenient than curbside for both drivers and the city. Oslo has thus developed a support scheme for home charging:

  • Private housing associations and housing co-operatives can apply for a grant covering up to maximum 20% of all needed investments in charging infrastructure on private ground, up to a limit of NOK 1 million (~ $117,613 USD).
  • In 2018, more than 16,000 chargers in private housing co-operatives and associations have been financed. This is a substantial figure compared to the deployment of 600 new curbside/on-street chargers owned and operated by the City on a yearly basis.

3. We Need to Shift Commercial Fleets to Electric

The sales of private EVs are skyrocketing. The sales of commercial electric vehicles, however, are still far from high enough.  We need a substantial boost in sales of commercial EVs for taxi drivers, craft and service drivers, and freight if we want to meet our ambitious environmental goals. This is especially important because the use of commercial vehicles is expected to increase much faster than the use of private cars.

Electrification of commercial vehicles is now the focus. In order to succeed with the electrification of commercial vehicles Oslo will create tailor-made solutions for different sectors in addition to more normal and quick chargers.

New solutions include designated hubs for commercial vehicles, including high-performance DC quick chargers (150-350 kW), V2G and inductive charging etc., as well as well-designed support schemes for electric freight vans and taxis.

The city also gives a grant of 50% of total investment cost for needed charging infrastructure for all craft and service drivers and owners of freight vehicles and taxis who want to switch to electric vehicles.

To boost the sales of commercial electric vehicles Oslo has actively used its public procurement policy to demand/or favor zero emission freight deliveries of goods and services purchased by the City. The experience is promising and clear: environmental demands in public tenders do trigger development of new innovative green solutions for transportation of goods and services.

Even if the numbers of electric commercial vehicles are far from satisfactory there are positive signs for vans and small freight and service vehicles. In 2018 we witnessed 2-digit sales figures for freight and service vehicles (12%) for the first time.

Like with private EVs, Oslo sees the need for incentives to boost commercial EV uptake, and the city has a generous incentive scheme to achieve this:

  • New “Centre of excellence” for professional users of EVs with tailor-made charging solutions for professional users of EVs and pre-booking possibilities. A good example is already in place at Vulkan, Norway’s largest and most advanced mobility house financed by the EU-project SEEV4 City
  • New hubs for commercial vehicles (including pre-booking opportunities, high performance chargers, smart grid, etc., reserved for commercial vehicles)
  • Designated taxi ranks for electric taxis only (some of the best locations will be reserved for only zero emission taxis)
  • New super-quick chargers (some reserved for commercial EVs)
  • Inductive charging (for electric taxis only, as it’s much simpler)
  • Reserved parking with charging possibilities for commercial vehicles (downtown Oslo)
  • Grants for investment in charging infrastructure for light commercial vehicles and taxis
  • Grants and subsidies for zero emission trucks and heavy-duty vehicles (50% of the extra cost of zero vehicles and needed charging infrastructure)
  • Free parking for zero emission commercial vehicles (on all public parking)
  • Free passing (or high discount) on passing through the gates (in and out of the City)
  • Demand for zero emission transport in public procurements of goods and services
  • Discount on quick charging for priority segments like electric taxis and freight vehicles

Electrification of Transport – A Holistic Approach to Transport is Needed

Oslo aims to be the world’s first emissions-free city within the next 12 years. The skyrocketing growth of EVs is fantastic, but only part of the solution. Oslo takes a holistic approach to ensure that all transport becomes zero emission and convenient through:

  • more public transportation
  • zero emission public transportation (by 2028)
  • bicycling lanes and pedestrian walkways (2018-2020)
  • zero emission taxis (by 2023)
  • zero emission freight vehicles (2025)
  • electric ferries (2019)
  • electrification of the harbour (2019)
  • car sharing (2018-2025)
  • autonomous vehicles (2019)
  • public transportation on-demand
  • electrification of the maritime sector and domestic aviation (2040)

The focus is now on mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) and electrification of all types of transport. The use of public transportation in Oslo has increased substantially the last ten years (80%), and is, today, at a historic high. The number of people using cycles and walking is also increasing rapidly. Incentives are important, but we also need more regulations on the use of cars. In Oslo several new measures are already deployed or planned:

Lessons Learned

There are several lessons learned from the EV capital Oslo, including:

  1. Green taxes are working. People will make green choices if they can afford it. A green tax on petrol and diesel cars combined with tax exemptions for zero emission vehicles gives a double incentive to buy electric cars.
  2. The growth of EVs in Oslo has proceeded much faster than expected.
  3. A high national tax on the most polluting cars can balance the cost of tax exemptions for zero emission vehicles to balance the revenues.
  4. Home charging is equally important as public charging. Home charging is the cheapest and most convenient way to charge for EV users.
  5. The chicken and egg problem is solved. A ubiquitous public charging infrastructure is needed as a first mover and will create business opportunities and revenues for the private sector over time. To leave everything to the private market before a market has emerged equals too little, too late.
  6. EVs are important but only part of the solution. We also need clean public transportation, car sharing, cycling and pedestrians, etc., to solve the (zero emission transport) equation.  
  7. Experience shows that it is possible to boost the sales of EVs and at the same time increase the use of public transportation, cycling and walking. All green solutions must be in focus simultaneously.

New Innovations and Trends

There are a number of new innovations and trends that will influence the future growth of the EV market, including:

  • The offers of new and interesting models are really picking up, and more and more OEMs are gearing up for the race.
  • The technology is already available. Over 60% of all new cars sold in Oslo are now electric, either a battery electric (BEV) or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). New models with longer range and a broader selection of models will increase the sales.
  • More EVs on the global market will create economy of scale and eventually the production price for EVs will drop.
  • The battery technology will improve with longer range and speed of charging, and the battery costs seem to be on a steep downward trend. We have only seen the start of the modern storage technology.
  • The public chargers are getting cheaper, better and much faster (6 times faster).
  • The on-board chargers in the cars are getting ready for the new high-performance DC chargers and the standards for AC charging are improving.
  • The electric engine is already extremely energy efficient and cheap to produce, due to few movable parts and lesser complexity than the combustion engine. It is therefore expected that the electric engine will outcompete the far more complex combustion engine within 5-10 years. In the future you may have to subsidize diesel and gasoline engines if you want the combustion engine to survive.
  • New players have emerged on the global scene that now have more experience with the electric vehicle technology than many of the traditional OEMs.
  • Shared and autonomous mobility is on the rise and will increase the progress towards electrification of transport.
  • New smart grid solutions, V2G and battery storage based on second-hand batteries can bring down the investment cost and operational cost for charging solutions.
  • New user friendly innovations like inductive (wireless) charging, high-performance chargers (with 5-8 times higher speeds), machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and user-friendly applications can increase the attractiveness of EVs.

The Road Ahead – Highway to Electric

It is hard to predict the future, and even harder to be right. Today we have a historic opportunity to convert all vehicles to zero emission: private vehicles, commercial vehicles and public transport. We just need the right policy, public-private cooperation and the political and administrative resilience to succeed. New technologies will fuel the progress towards electrification, and experience indicates that things are often moving much faster than anticipated.

The future will depend on:

  1. The political willingness to use green taxes, regulations and other incentives to make the shift to put a price on pollution.
  2. Technology developments for vehicles, battery, chargers, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and intelligent transportation systems.
  3. Policies in major markets that foster EV sales and therefore economy of scale.
  4. Global price developments on fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel, etc.
  5. National and transnational cooperation including local government, national government and private businesses.
  6. Global cooperation and free exchange of examples and ideas.
  7. The development of sound business models that can help finance the green shift in the transport sector.
  8. A rapid and promising growth in large cities in California, China, Korea and Europe help to fuel the present optimism.

The experience from Oslo shows that it is possible to boost the sales of electric cars and at the same time increase the use of public transportation, cycling and walking. It also shows that EVs work in a rough, Nordic climate and that a major shift could be just around the corner. The future is electric; the future is now!

Continue reading “Building a Ubiquitous Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastucture”

Adopting a Zero-Emissions Standard for New Buildings

Game Changers Deep Dive

Deep Dive Edition #1:
Adopting a Zero-Emissions Standard for New Buildings

This edition is part of a series that focuses on each of the Game Changers featured in our recent Game Changers Report.

Contributing Editor: Vincent Martinez, Chief Operating Officer, Architecture 2030

Through his over twelve-year tenure at Architecture 2030, Vincent Martinez has developed robust networks focused on private sector commitments, education and training. Vincent has strong connections to private sector leaders in urban real estate through his previous role as the 2030 Districts Network Interim Director from 2013 to 2016, helping co-found the 2030 Districts model that has now been adopted by 20 North American cities. He now sits on the 2030 Districts Network Board of Governors. Vincent also formerly managed the development and dissemination of the AIA+2030 Professional Education Series, which provided design professionals in 27 markets across North America with strategies for reaching zero-net-carbon buildings and has since been developed into an online education series. Vincent currently leads Architecture 2030’s work on urban zero-net-carbon buildings, including the ZERO Code, Achieving Zero framework, and Zero Cities Project with 11 leading US cities. Vincent is the 2018 Chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Energy Leaders Group and is a member of the AIA 2030 Commitment Working Group. He is an honorary member of AIA Seattle and was named an Emerging Leader by the Design Futures Council in 2015.

THE CONTEXT

The UN’s 2017 “Global Status Report” estimates that the world will add 230 billion square meters (2.5 trillion square feet) of buildings by 2060 – the equivalent of adding an entire New York City to the planet every 34 days for the next 40 years.

Over 50% of this new construction will happen in North America, China and India between now and 2030. During the next wave, the majority of new construction will shift to the global south (Latin America, Africa, and India) where there are mostly voluntary building energy codes or no building energy codes at all.

Coupled with the urgency that the IPCC has placed on the decarbonization of our built environment (both existing and new buildings) over the next decade, it is clear that all building sector actions and policies must be evaluated based on their ability to scale and to have a significant immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

While there have been worldwide improvements in building sector energy efficiency, as well as growth in renewable energy generating capacity, these have not been nearly enough to offset the increase in emissions from new construction. As a result, building sector CO2 emissions have continued to rise by nearly 1% per year since 2010. To meet the Paris Agreement targets, action is needed today to implement zero-emissions building standards or codes worldwide.

ZERO-EMISSIONS STANDARDS

A zero-emissions, or “net-zero”, building standard is one that requires new buildings to be designed and equipped so that all energy use on an annual basis — for heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, vehicle charging, etc. — is highly efficient and comes only from renewable (non-CO2 emitting) energy sources.

Two critical questions that address the scalability and ability of such standards to have significant immediate impact are: 1) how do we define “highly efficient”, and 2) how do we ensure that the energy a building uses comes from “renewable energy sources”? This e-news highlights efforts to answer these questions.

 

PRIORITY #1: RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES

This Zero-Emissions Standards Game Changer is inherently linked to and reliant on another strategy: Empower Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity. While energy efficiency is the primary leverage point of the traditional building energy code structure, zero-emissions buildings cannot be achieved through efficiency alone. It must be complemented with impactful mechanisms for renewable energy generation and procurement to reach zero-emissions standards, especially in jurisdictions with existing highly-efficient codes.  Ensuring that the energy needs of new construction are met by renewable energy sources provides the most impactful emissions mitigation strategy for new construction in CNCA cities.

The incorporation of on-site and/or off-site renewable energy requirements has been added to new construction standards across the world. The European Commission’s Technical Standard for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) defines a NZEB as “a very high energy performance building with energy produced by renewable sources on-site or nearby”, and requires new public buildings to reach this standard starting in 2019 and all new buildings to reach this standard starting in 2021. The China Academy of Building Research’s (CABR) recently released Technical Standard for Nearly Zero Energy Buildings also requires on-site and/or off-site renewables.

The World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero Initiative, additionally, provides a framework for defining Zero Net Carbon buildings that recognizes the need for off-site renewables, and to date six Green Building Councils have introduced standards that address on-site and/or off-site renewable energy. More recently the World Green Building Council and C40 launched the Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment, which has 15 businesses, 22 cities and 5 state and regional governments as founding signatories. The commitment follows the EP-100 Technical Criteria for on-site and off-site renewable energy claims and provides a framework for regulating jurisdictions to consider. A new report from C40 also highlights the cities’ planned actions for delivering on the Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment.

Many jurisdictions are also leveraging their building energy codes or local ordinances to lead to, or require, on-site renewable energy generation. For example, on-site solar requirements for new residential construction in the State of California, on-site solar requirements for new non-residential construction in California cities, on-site solar thermal requirements in Sao Paulo and across Europe, and in Durban the eThewini Municipality is exploring land-use planning schemes to require on-site renewables to cover half the building energy needs.

The next option, and most immediately scalable and impactful policy, will be off-site renewable energy procurement requirements, which also address large buildings with limited on-site renewable energy generating capacity (e.g. buildings in dense urban environments). The City of Palo Alto (USA),has a new proposal for their reach code to require on-site and/or off-site renewable energy for new small- to mid-rise non-residential construction, which they have shown to be cost-effective in their climate. The nuances of requiring off-site renewable energy procurement will depend on the local market. An Off-Site ZNE Policy Proposal, ZNE Has Left the Building, submitted by Arup to the California Energy Commission, and Architecture 2030’s ZERO Code, illustrate how this can be implemented.

To create zero-emissions buildings, the focus and urgency must now be on implementing zero-net-carbon building codes and establishing programs and opportunities for off-site renewable energy procurement. This will only accelerate and complement efforts by utilities and regional governments to decarbonize the electricity supply. Lessons learned from the upcoming e-news on Empowering Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity may be helpful in this regard.

PRIORITY #2: NO NEW ON-SITE EMISSIONS

This Zero-Emissions Standards Game Changer is also linked to the Electrify Buildings’ Heating and Cooling Systems Game Changer. While reaching net zero-emissions is possible now through the purchase of additional renewable energy in order to offset emissions produced by on-site fossil fuels, there is a growing concern that new on-site systems that produce emissions will quickly become a liability and will counteract parallel efforts to electrify existing building heating and cooling systems. Therefore, zero-emissions standards should prohibit, or significantly discourage, on-site fossil fuel use.

Many other cities are working with industry to provide incentives for all-electric buildings, while they work through legislative barriers to its requirement (see CNCA’s Game Changers report). An example is from a recent study performed by the City of Palo Alto (USA), which illustrated that all-electric new construction is cost effective for most building types in their climate, and this is now a central strategy in their upcoming reach code proposal.

PRIORITY #3: INCREASED ENERGY EFFICIENCY

While increased energy efficiency is one of the two central components of Zero-Emissions Building Standards, most advanced jurisdictions already have aggressive energy efficiency requirements for new construction or can adopt the latest model codes (which are highly efficient and include a host of ready-to-use compliance tools). In jurisdictions with high-efficiency codes, the relative emissions reductions from increased energy efficiency in new construction are small, compared to policies that require all new buildings to meet their energy needs from renewable (non-CO2 emitting) sources. Jurisdictions with large amounts of renewable energy in their electricity supply may also see greater emissions reductions from all-electric new construction policies than they would from small incremental efficiency gains.

Jurisdictions that do not have control over their building energy codes will find renewable energy requirements to be one of the only regulatory tools that they can implement to immediately address new construction emissions. For example, the City of Copenhagen doesn’t have control of their building energy codes and is instead working to ensure that Copenhagen is supplied by 100% carbon neutral electricity and heat in 2025, which means their buildings will be zero-net-carbon users.

For jurisdictions pursuing advanced energy efficiency through the building energy code structure, innovative strategies are being developed (see infographic on right). Toronto’s proposed Thermal Energy Demand Intensity targets for heating energy and their Greenhouse Gas Intensity targets encourage low-carbon fuel choices and address the two priority areas, all-electric new buildings and the use of renewable energy, discussed above. Vancouver’s building code and rezoning policy already have GHG limits per unit area for most building types and will be updated incrementally so that they will require zero emissions from all new construction by 2030. These types of targets can drive innovation and high levels of efficiency through the performance pathway of the code.

To ensure scalability, zero-net-carbon building energy codes and standards must focus equally on prescriptive and performance code pathways (see figure on left), as the large majority of new buildings around the globe are expected to follow a prescriptive path. Architecture 2030’s ZERO Code provides the framework for linking both the prescriptive and performance path compliance approaches to renewable energy requirements.

CONCLUSION

The urgency of the climate crises and the scale of expected global new construction makes highly efficient building energy code adoption, coupled with on-site and off-site renewable energy requirements, the most critical policy for all new buildings in CNCA cities. Renewable energy requirements can achieve the emissions reductions required for leading cities to reach a zero-net-carbon building sector, and, with building energy codes, are a critically missing policy piece for the rest of the developing world.

It is also worth stressing that in order to truly decarbonize the built environment, we must eliminate fossil fuel GHG emissions from both building operations and the embodied carbon of building materials and construction. To address this urgency, new policies, above and beyond government procurement, must be developed and include prescriptive and performance-based standards and requirements. Stay tuned for more on innovations in this important topic in a future e-news.

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