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The Carbon-Free City Handbook: Buildings

The built environment is responsible for nearly 50 percent of all GHG emissions in large cities. So any carbon-free commitment must address building energy use.

For many cities, buildings are the largest cause of carbon emissions. The good news is that transitioning buildings toward net-zero energy makes those buildings healthier and more comfortable. Smart approaches to retrofitting and new construction can create an economic boon for the city.

Action I: City Building Retrofits

Description

Perform deep energy retrofits on all existing city-owned buildings, including affordable housing, to make municipal facilities ultraefficient and net-zero energy ready. Such buildings would achieve net-zero or nearly net-zero energy if equipped with on-site renewable energy generation.

Action Documents

Recommended Resources

Action 2: Net-Zero Codes

Description

Phase in requirements for all new buildings to achieve net-zero energy or net-zero energy ready (deep efficiency without renewable energy on site) status using building code requirements. Establish target years after which all new buildings that enter the planning and permitting process will be designed
to achieve net-zero energy. Making a building net-zero energy ready at the point of construction is very cost-effective. All new municipal buildings should be required to achieve net-zero energy.

Action Documents

Recommended Resources
Additional Citations

Action 3: Progressive Codes

Description

Require existing buildings to meet a specified energy-efficiency metric based on whole-building energy consumption per unit area after a “trigger” event, such as a sale, a building refinancing, or a major renovation, or in tandem with life safety upgrades.

Action Documents

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Action 4: Smart LED Lighting

Description

Create policies to support interior lighting upgrades to LED technology citywide. Provide focused buy-down programs for low-income residents, with graduated approaches for individuals and institutions able to better afford the up-front costs required to secure long-term savings. In addition to energy cost savings, maintenance costs are greatly reduced.

Action Documents

Recommended Resources
  • Government of India, Ministry of Power. “About UJALA.

The success of our LED program is the result of EESL’s innovative business model, which is scalable, flexible, and able to embrace emerging technologies.

‐Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), Ministry of Power, Government of India

Action 5: Benchmarking and Transparency

Description

Require benchmarking for all buildings citywide, which necessitates reporting annual building energy use. This should be paired with a transparency policy that requires commercial and large residential building types to publicly disclose energy use.

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Browse Additional Recommendations by Sector

Transportation and Mobility

Carbon-free cities can provide more efficient and economic options that are tailored to different transportation needs—with no emissions—and that create vibrant urban spaces.

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Electricity

Leading cities are transforming electricity generation to carbon-free renewable energy by first committing to bold 100% renewable energy targets, then implementing comprehensive action plans.

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Industry

Industry is a major employer and economic driver in many global cities, significantly shaping a city’s carbon emissions. Strategic partnerships with corporate residents can achieve economic and environmental solutions that benefit everyone.

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Biological Resources

Cities can shift the flow and management of their biological resources to reduce emissions, capture carbon, and provide numerous other benefits to a city.

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Financing

Cities have an important role to play creating or expanding financing options and improving access to such financing.

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City leaders and sustainability officers: take action today to put your city on a pathway to zero-carbon.