What “Net Zero Emissions” means and why it should matter to you


A skyline view of Downtown Los Angeles, covered by smog from carbon emissions.

“Net zero emissions” is an ESG term that is often misunderstood. With so many conflicting ideas about what this term means and how it should be defined, it’s essential that leaders in the commercial real estate industry understand what net zero emissions are before you can begin working towards it.

According to some estimates, if we don’t reduce our emissions soon, temperatures will rise above pre-industrial levels by 2200, causing devastating effects on both humans and the ecosystems around us. Due to the severe global effect of emissions, regulations are enforcing net-zero regulations for buildings in major cities across North America, and many real estate companies are adopting net-zero goals internally.

Keep reading to learn more about what “net zero emissions” means for commercial real estate, and why it matters to you!

How “Net Zero Emissions” is defined

Now that you understand a bit of the context behind the term, let’s explore what “net zero emissions” actually means.

Net Zero, when discussed in CRE, is the goal of reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses a building emits to the same amount of CO2 the building produces. In other words, if your office building creates 100 tons of CO2 each year, then you want to reduce 100 tons of CO2 so that your net emissions equal zero.

The equation sounds pretty simple — but decarbonizing and reaching net zero in commercial buildings is a difficult process. There are plenty of details to consider when going after net zero emissions. For example, what energy sources can you use at your office building? What initiatives are your buildings taking on to reduce their energy consumption? How do you track your progress toward Net Zero? And, of course, how much will it cost? 

Why decarbonization matters for office buildings

If you’re a building owner or manager, decarbonizing will eventually become an unavoidable task. While pressures to decarbonize may feel overwhelming, there are many positive and significant reasons to set net zero goals. Here’s why:

  • Carbon neutrality will help reduce the effects of climate change. 
  • Carbon neutrality is a good business decision because it is an investment in protecting and increasing the asset value.
  • Carbon neutrality will save money in the long run.
  • Carbon neutrality will help attract new tenants and customers.

What is the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment?

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is a worldwide commitment by leading companies to reduce their building-based carbon impact. The Commitment is a call to action for all companies to reduce their building-based emissions by 2030. It includes specific targets for improving energy efficiency and implementing renewable energy technologies, with an overall goal of decarbonizing all buildings owned or leased by signatory organizations.

The industry-leading companies taking part in this commitment want to help reduce their environmental impact and promote environmental stewardship. They’re taking steps toward reducing their carbon footprint to combat climate change and protect their local and global community.

What office building owners and managers can do to reach Net Zero Emissions

  • Start by taking advantage of the equipment you have by incorporating a machine-learning sustainability intelligence technology that will help reduce CO2 and energy costs immediately.
  • Use carbon-neutral sources of energy. For example, you can use solar panels to generate electricity or a geothermal heat pump to provide heating and cooling.
  • Reduce energy use in buildings through retrofits and upgrades. (To learn more about which initiative is right for your building, read our guide on popular decarbonization methods.)
  • Buy carbon offsets from organizations that invest in projects such as reforestation or methane capture from landfills to compensate for any carbon emissions that you cannot reduce at the office building itself.

To learn more about what your portfolio can do to decarbonize, get a custom decarbonization plan from the building sustainability experts at Cortex, today.

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