Post Carbon Cities

Skip to content



Your city council could save the world
Published 9 July 2008 by Gristmill (original article)

Buildings, their construction and maintenance, account for nearly half of U.S. energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. That means city councils and other code-setting entities are in the perfect position to make great strides in cutting energy use, and Architecture 2030 has tools to help.

Published 9 July 2008 by Gristmill,

[This article is reproduced with permission from Edward Mazria. -Ed.]

Further related material:
» Meeting the 2030 Challenge Through Building Codes explains the kinds of changes needed to attain the prescribed results.
» Vancouver, B.C. is already implementing some changes along these lines: Building permits go green.

By Edward Mazria

Compared to cutting-edge technologies -- nanotechnology, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, biomimicry -- building codes seem downright stodgy and, dare I say it?, boring. Yet, much to the surprise of many, building codes are fast becoming the Titans in the battle against climate change. Able to fell with a single blow the giants on the other side of the battlefield -- out-of-control greenhouse-gas emissions, thoughtless energy consumption, and gross energy inefficiency -- building codes are beginning to look pretty darn sexy in their own right.

Buildings are responsible for approximately 48 percent of all energy consumption and GHG emissions in the U.S. Forty-eight percent. Let that sink in. The entire transportation sector is only responsible for 27 percent. To win the climate change battle, we must tackle the building sector.

Local governments are doing just that. They are among the real heroes of the climate change crisis. Shortly after Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge[1], the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted Resolution 50, the challenge for all buildings in all cities. Since making that commitment, cities and counties across the U.S. have been working to implement its targets, particularly through building energy codes.

As the gatekeepers of building energy codes, local governments are in a uniquely powerful position to save the world by effecting change within the very sector that needs the greatest changes. They don't need to wait for anyone else to come to their rescue; they are the knights in shining armor. Who knew?

Even so, without a clear relationship between the 2030 Challenge targets and existing building energy codes, many local governments have struggled in their attempts to move forward. To clarify this
relationship and help governments clear this hurdle, Architecture 2030
recently released the following table of "code equivalents", which are the additional reductions needed beyond the requirements of a particular code to meet or exceed the initial 50 percent reduction target of the 2030 Challenge. Now, to meet the 2030 Challenge, local governments simply need to amend their building energy code by adopting the appropriate code equivalent in the table.

How much will that cost? Nothing. It will actually save the building owner money.

According to a recent study by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the cost to implement the reductions called for by the "code equivalents" in a typical new residence is about $1.25 to $2.00 per square foot of building floor area[2].
If this cost is amortized at 7 percent over a 30-year mortgage, the
annual cost for a 2,000-square-foot residence is approximately $211.
However, due to the significant reduction in energy consumption
achieved by a 2030 Challenge building, the homeowner will save $723 on
their annual utility bill. So, the net savings for the year is $512.
And, as energy prices increase, the owner's savings also increase.

If building codes aren't sexy enough for you, surely extra money in your pocket is. And fortunately, amending your local building code to get these savings rolling is a local action. Each and every citizen can get in on the action by lobbying their local and state officials to amend their code.

To download the full report, Meeting the 2030 Challenge Through Building Codes, click here [PDF].


The 2030 Challenge calls for 1) all new buildings and developments to be designed to use half the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume, i.e., half the regional or country average for that building type, 2) at a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area be renovated annually to use half the amount of fossil fuel energy they are currently consuming, and 3) the fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings be increased to 60 percent in 2010, 70 percent in 2015, 80 percent in 2020, 90 percent in 2025, and carbon neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG-emitting energy). Architecture 2030 recommends the fossil fuel reduction targets be achieved through design, the application of renewable energy technologies and/or the purchase of renewable energy (20 percent maximum). Additional information is available here.

[2] According to the 2006 DOE-supported study, Energy Impact Study of the 2003 IECC, 2006 IECC, and 2006 IRC Energy Codes for Nebraska, the energy consumption of an IECC 2003 or IECC 2006 code compliant residence is essentially the same.

Code Equivalents

Photo credit: Paul Downey

FAIR USE / FAIR DEALING NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to advance understanding of certain public interest issues per the 'fair use' provision of United States Copyright Law section 107 and the 'fair dealing' exception of Canadian Copyright Act section 29.

© 2009 Post Carbon Institute

Post Carbon Cities: Helping local governments understand and respond to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
Post Carbon Cities is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the United States.