Walgreens' embrace of net zero retail development is laudable, particularly because of the potential for its adoption to drive the normalization of net zero building performance industry wide. In addition, the authenticity of Walgreens’ commitment is reflected in seeking Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, the only sustainability framework for the built environment that embraces the ultimate sustainability goals of net zero as a minimum impact, and restorative impacts as the standard. The LBC won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge in 2012 as the most promising innovation to drive global sustainability.
It is important to note that "net zero" is a tricky concept. By itself, it does not necessarily use only renewable energy, and therefore would not necessarily achieve full sustainability. The key difficulty is that peak energy use, in either the winter for heat or the summer for cooling, can exceed the average renewable energy generation capacity, and therefore need to draw from the carbon-fueled utility energy grid. Thus, constructing buildings that require a minimal amount of energy for heating and cooling is key, and those requirements lie far beyond the California Title 24 code or other state of federal codes or guidelines.
The one existing building technology that can produce an 80-90% reduction in building core energy use goes by the name of "Passive House." Under development for the past 20+ years, and a common feature of the residential and commercial building landscape in Europe, and catching on in the US (40,000 buildings constructed worldwide since 1996; see History, below), passive house represents a "keystone" innovation in building technology that enables the low/no carbon, renewable energy, ecological economy of a sustainable society. Without reducing building energy use, net-zero to net-positive (to fuel our electric transportation system) renewable energy will remain elusive.
The Region of Brussels is an impressive demonstration of local economic transformation strategy and public/private sector collaboration. The region went from last to first place in five years, from 2007-2012 in building sector energy efficiency. During that time, the regional government catalyzed construction of over 15M sq. meters of passive house-based buildings (Passive House Brussels, Ms. Dockx, below).
Another dimension of a future net zero/net positive built environment, is Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). Their use holds the potential to turn cities from energy consumers into energy producers using the free, ubiquitous energy resource that powers the primary production of the planet, the earth's biosphere, ecosystems, and regenerative life support and ecological economy! Combined with passive house building technology for residential and commercial buildings, BIPV promises to be the net positive, game-changing innovation and keystone of a renewable energy sustainable economy and society.
It is heartening to see the potential quickening of the transformation with innovation by industry leaders, such as Walgreens, with the capacity to drive systems transformation. It is only hoped that they, along with industry gate keepers and local planning and building officials, can embrace the challenge and engage in the innovation required for an effective response--and sustainability success before the limited time available runs out. Our children’s' survival depends on it.
- Living Building Challenge: https://ilbi.org/lbc
- Buckminster Fuller 2012 Challenge: http://challenge.bfi.org/2012Finalist_Living_Challenge
- Passive House: http://passivehousecal.org/, http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSHome.html
- History of Passive House: http://www.passivehousecal.org/history
- Building Carbon Zero CA Syposium: http://www.passivehousecal.org/event/building-carbon-zero-california-implementing-efficiency-cities-and-regions
- Passive House Brussels (see Ms. Dockx): see 2 PDFs http://www.co2zeroca.org/#!resources-sf/c1z7j
- Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics (BIPV): http://www.wbdg.org/resources/bipv.php