Monday, January 17, 2011

Carbon Neutral Buildings

1st Regional Symposium on Sustainable Construction Materials and Building System (SUCOMBS) 2009Towards a Green Future in the Construction Industry.
12 October 2009 (Monday), Midvalley Boulevard Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Carbon Neutral Buildings – An Overview
Kamarudin Mohd Nor
Academic Adviser, The London College of Professional Training, 370-376 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London W12 7LL.
Tel: +44 (0) 7552426416
This paper discusses carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal gas, from a mix of external and internal reductions. The surge in the man-made or anthropogenic GHG emissions since the industrial revolution is linked to the unprecedented increase in the average surface temperatures globally that, in turn, drives climate change. External reductions are steps taken by the world community to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming. Among them are the development of green technologies to generate renewables and reduce GHG emissions and ratification and enforcement of international agreements like the clean development mechanism (CDM) for carbon offsetting as sanctioned by the Kyoto protocol. Internal reductions are measures to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings. These can be achieved by encouraging owners and users to reduce energy consumption, help produce renewables on a smaller scale and adopt green buildings practices for new development and the renovation of existing stocks. Green building practices like Passivhaus, Potton Lighthouse and Eco-Renovations are studied with regard to their feasibility and effectiveness. While green building rating and certification initiaves like LEED, BREEAM, CRISP, GREEN STAR, HK-BEAM, CASBEE, NABERS, ABGR, EcoProfile, EcoEffect, Green Mark System and Green Building Index are presented for discussion.
Keywords: carbon neutral, zero-carbon, low-carbon, carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, green building, clean development mechanism, carbon offsetting, green technologies, sequestration, carbon capture and storage.

1.0 Introduction

The aim of this paper is to discuss carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal gas, from a mix of external and internal reductions (The CarbonNeutral Company, 2008, p.54). For the purposes of this paper, carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2[e] is used interchangeably with GHG. The CO2[e] is a combination of CO2 and other listed greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol as shown in the following table:

Global warming potential (over a century)
Atmospheric lifetime (years)
CO2 [Carbon dioxide]
CH4 [Methane]
N2O [Nitrous oxide]
CFCs [Chlorofluorocarbons]-various
HFCs [Hydrofluorocarbons]-various
SF6 [Sulphur hexafluoride]
Table 1: GHG adapted from Lynas (2007, p.9)

However, as commonly used in many literature, CO2[e] is simply stated as CO2 and this paper will adopt the same convention. As a word of caution, the misleading term “carbon” by itself is avoided since it does not represent the intended meaning of CO2. This is often erratically used by some writers and policy makers in referring to GHG. As a clarification, carbon is 3.67 times heavier than CO2.
The term neutral carbon or low-carbon or zero-carbon buildings is just a convenient point of reference. It should be understood as buildings with neutral or low or zero CO2[e] emissions. Again for the purposes of this paper, the commonly known term neutral or low or zero carbon buildings will be used for the sake of simplicity.
The increase in the man-made or anthropogenic GHG emissions since the industrial revolution is linked to the unprecedented spiralling of the global average surface temperatures causing “global warming” that, in turn, drives “ climate change”. External reductions are steps taken by the world community to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming.
This paper outlines three common external reductions approaches. They are macro level iniatives that are external to buildings physically. First is the development of green technologies to generate renewables and be less dependent on fossil fuels. The aim is to reduce CO2 emissions. Second is the ratification and enforcement of international agreements like the clean development mechanism (CDM) for carbon offsetting sanctioned by the Kyoto protocol. Third is the adoption of green concepts in designing and developing new urban areas.
The first and second approaches will be discussed in more details later. The third approach will now be mentioned in passing and will not be discussed further.
In countries adopting low-carbon economy, new cities are increasingly planned to incorporate green features (Loder 2009, p.107). They are equipped with green infrastructure including photovoltaic farms to generate power and sustainable water supply, drainage, sewerage and waste disposal systems. Nicholas, (2007) discusses the guidelines on the development of green cities in some details.
Examples of the green cities planned are the new Masdar City development in Abu Dhabi; Dontan and Tianjin cities in China; and Vauban in Germany.
Internal reductions are measures to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings. These can be achieved by encouraging building owners and users to reduce energy consumption, help produce renewables on a smaller scale and adopt green buildings practices for new development and the renovation of existing stocks. Green building practices like Passivhaus, Potton Lighthouse and Eco-Renovations are studied with regard to their feasibility and effectiveness. While green building rating and certification initiaves like LEED, BREEAM, CRISP, GREEN STAR, HK-BEAM, CASBEE, NABERS, ABGR, EcoProfile, EcoEffect, Green Mark System and Green Building Index will be tabled for discussion.

2.0 Carbon neutral buildings in the context of global warming
The need for buildings to be carbon neutral must be looked at holistically. It has to be discussed within the context of global warming.
Buildings are increasingly blamed to consume a substantial amount of energy and emit almost an equivalent amount of CO2. The European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport in 2006 estimated that 40 per cent of all European Union (EU) energy consumption (mainly electricity and gas) is attributable to buildings (Kenna, 2008, p. 78).
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) similarly estimated that the world’s buildings consume the same per centage of energy and produce, by a simple deduction 40 per cent GHG (Fortson, 2009b, p.11). However, both estimations are anecdotal.
Probably the estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2001 assessmenr report [AR] on the CO2 emissions by buildings may well be a good guide. The IPCC broke down the CO2 global emissions into four sectors as follows (Henson, 2008 p.36):
· Industry: more than 40 per cent
· Buildings (homes, offices and the like): about 31 per cent
· Transportation: around 22 per cent
· Agriculture: about 4 per cent
However, since the AR 2001 report, buildings’ CO2 emissions must have increased substantially. As such the threshold of 40 per cent is adopted to reflect this increase over the years. Based on this percentage CO2 emissions by weight is roughly equal to 64 billion tonnes. The estimated total amount of CO2 hovering in the atmosphere now is around 160 billion tonnes. About 26 billion tonnes of CO2 are produced every year. The emissions keep on rising sharply, more so as the world economy grows (the case in point is the coal-driven economic boom in China).
Buildings should not be isolated as a major source of GHG emissions as the almost forgotten shipping industry is to be blamed too. The 100,000 cargo ships plying the seas do emit substantial amount of GHG (especially sulphur oxide (SOx) due to the burning of 289 tonnes of cheap and contaminated fossil fuel each year) (Leake, 2009a, p.4).
Besides shipping, the aviation industry also contributes around 2 per cent of the GHG emissions (Tan 2009a, p.T4). Another source of emissions could be attributed to computing and telecommunication. They too emit around 2 per cent GHG yearly and this rate keeps on growing at a fast rate. The breakdown of the emissions: 49 per cent from PCs and printers; 37 per cent from telecommunication networks and devices; 14 per cent from data centres (Heap 2009, p.23; Harlow 2009, p.11; Johnson 2009, p.2; and Standage 2009, p.109).
The world’s top ten GHG emitters (measured in their respective percentages) in 2004 were as follows (Henson, op. cit. p.41):
· United States: 20.9
· China: 17.3
[China is outpacing the US now as it is actively becoming the “workshop” of the world]
· Russia: 5.3
· India: 4.6
· Japan: 4.3
· Germany: 2.8
· Canada: 2.2
· United Kingdom: 2.0
· South Korea: 1.6
· Italy: 1.6
The United Kingdom Government estimated that at least 27 per cent of all UK GHG emissions come from houses and 4 million people are now classed as “fuel poor” – meaning they spend more than 10 per cent of their incomes on energy. As such the government announced an energy efficiency budget of £435m [RM2.53b] to be distributed to homes under the Social Housing Energy Saving Programme [SHESP], especially to be insulated and repaired to reduce CO2 emissions by 380,000 tonnes over the next 2 years (Vidal, et. al., 2009,p.12 and Oyekanmi 2009, p.1).
For the past 420,000 years before the industrial revolution, CO2[e]’s count was only around 280 ppm. The estimated CO2[e] level by 2050 will be around 550ppm (Duncan, 2009, p.55) raising the average surface temperature by 4 degreesC to a staggering 40 degreesC. Lynas (2007, pp.25&26) gives the following scenario:
“Four degrees (rise in temperature)
· Most of the Nile Delta is threatened by rising seas, as is a third of Bangladesh. Tens of millions more become climate refugees.
· West Antarctic ice sheet potentially collapses, pumping five metres of water into global sea levels.
· Southern Europe becomes like the Sahara, with deserts spreading in Spain and Portugal. People move north into temperate refugees in Scandinavia and the British Isles, which become increasingly overcrowded, resulting in further conflict.
· All glaciers disappear from the Alps, further reducing water supplies in Central Europe.
· Permafrost melt in Siberia releases billions of tonnes of methane and carbon dioxide, meaning that global warming spirals upward.”
If this were to happen, then we can expect a number of megadisasters that threaten millions of lives throughout the world (Erwin, 2009 p.22).
The 2006 Stern Review was of the opinion the world should aim for the level of emissions between 450 and 550ppm CO2[e] (Adam,2008).

2.1 Scientific evidence on global warming
It is thus, hard not to believe, based on concrete scientific evidence, that the level of CO2[e] or for the sake of simplicity in this paper, CO2 emissions has a strong link with global warming that in turn, causes climate change and its associated disasters. The evidence is well-documented by Allarby (1995), Brown (1996), Carley and Spapens (1998), Flannery (2007), Wilson and Law (2007), Goodwin (2008), Friedman (2008), The CarbonNeutral Company (op. cit. 2008), The Britannica Guide (2008) Burley and Haslam (2008), and Henson (op. cit. 2008) to cite a few.
Gray (2008) provides very useful website addresses (with brief explanations) on climate change and green solutions. While Lynas (2007, passim) presents various scenarios that may well happen with the increase in the CO2 emissions and relative to their respective average surface temperatures. Clawthorne (2004 pp.182-188) discusses on global warming as if it is a sure sign of the doomsday (but he has reasons to believe that it would happen). Collins (2006, pp.166-181), discusses, accompanied with a selection of vivid photographs, on the impacts of climate change.
Among the impacts highlighted by Collins are the shrinkage of glaciers (giving as an example, Mount Kilimanjaro that has lost 80 per cent of its ice cover within the last century) and the increase in the sea level due to the thermal expansion of sea water and collapses of the Antarctic ice sheet that would pump massive water into the oceans (see also, The Star 2008,. p.W39 on the rise of the oceans that can be linked to glacier flow).
The rising temperatures too may well release methane hydrate from underneath the oceans (Lynas, op. cit., pp.26&27). Methane as a GHG is 23 times most likely to contribute to a faster global warming in comparison to CO2 as shown in the table 1 in the introduction.
It was reported that nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the main man-made substance damaging the ozone layer according to a study by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration recently. N2O, is emitted around 10m tonnes a year. 30 per cent of it is due to human activities. It has overtaken CFCs and is expected to remain in the atmosphere until the end of the century (Doyle 2009).
This paper will not go into details on the evidence and arguments presented to back up the claim on the causes of global warming. Suffice it to mention that the level of GHG emissions over the last two decades are accelerating faster than usual and this has resulted in the rise and rise of the average global surface temperatures. The truth about global warming is not to be disputed. The only question that should be asked is how best could we tackle it? Abate or mitigate and adapt?
Table 2 presents the forecasted upsurge in CO2 emissions and their corresponding temperatures (Adapted from Lynas, op. cit., p.29) as follows:

CO2 Level
Degree Change
Action Needed
380 ppm
1 degree
Not possible to reduce
400 ppm
2 degrees
Cut global emissions by 2015 to stay below 2degreeC
450 ppm
3 degrees
Seriously reduce emissions
550 ppm
4 degrees
Can’t do much as methane is released
650 ppm
5 degrees
Not possible since most of the world is uninhabitable
800 ppm
6 degrees
Humanity’s survival is questionable
Table 2: the forecasted upsurge in CO2 emissions and their corresponding temperatures (Adapted from Lynas, op. cit., p.29)
NB: ppm is “parts per million”.

2.2 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Dr Charles David Keeling (1928-2005), in the late 1950s started to record the C02 levels in the atmosphere above the Mauna Lao Observatory in Hawaii. He plotted the levels until 2005, His famous “the Keeling Curve” showed an unprecedented increase in the CO2 levels over the period of 50 years. This brought about the hypothesis linking the GHG and global warming.
Based on this, climatologists used computer models to predict the warming trend sparking the World Meteorological Programme (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprising world-leading scientists, to study and make reports on increasing global temperatures as the result of the increased GHG emissions.
The IPCC has helped to lay the path that countries of the world should follow in combating climate change. The IPCC, from 1990 to 2007, published four Assessment Reports (ARs). The AR4 published in November 2007 among other things, states:
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising average sea level.
... Global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2994.
Most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures since mid-29th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse concentrations. “
Anthropogenic warming over the past three decades has likely had a discernable influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems”. (Goodwin, op. cit. p.12).
Incidentally, the level of CO2 recorded as recent as April this year (2009) at the Zappelin research station at Svalbard, Norway has reached record high in 50 million years. It peaked at more than 397 ppm (the average before this was 386ppm). The rate of change is getting faster than before.
The global annual mean growth rate was 2.14 ppm in 2007 higher than the annual average of 1.5ppm from 1970-2000. This is worrying as the earth might not be able to adapt to this speed of change. The best bet is to try to bring down to an average 350ppm, which is near impossible to achieve (Vidal, 2009, p.19).

2.4 Climate change sceptics
However, there are still individuals and groups who think that global warming is a hoax. They call themselves the sceptics or climate change deniers. Notable among them is Lawson (2009) who claims that the wisdom on the subject of climate change or global warming as he prefers to call it, is flawed and that the scientific findings are unsettled. So, the proposed solutions, according to him, would be more damaging (Lawson, op. cit., passim). Lawson’s criticisms should not be dismissed totally as there are logical points raised by him to be taken into consideration. Other sceptics are Horner (2007, passim) and members of global warming activists ( see their activities in the following websites:,,, and
Clark (2009, pp.29-31) has raised the possibility that global warming is not so much human induced but may be caused in a greater part by the sun’s magnetic activity that causes the hot cosmic rays to reach Earth in greater doses [or solar storms referred to as the “Carrington events”] every 11 year cycle. The next cycle expected in 2013 is based on a study by CLOUD at CERN at Switzerland. This is sheer hypothetical and should not be deviated from the fact that the present global warming is human induced.
Carr (2009, p.26) has raised concern on the possibility of errors in computer models on global warming as questions are raised as to why the world is not heating up recently as the models suggested they should be.
Another controversial report is on a contrarian Danish scientist, Dr Bjorn Lomborg, who is currently the Director of Copenhagen Consensus Group. He believes that global warming is not a serious problem and billions spent to reduce the CO2 emissions is a waste (The Sunday Times [UK], 2009, p.19).
Despite the criticisms by the deniers and fossil fuels producers to some extent, the scientific findings on the link between the increased GHG and average surface temperatures cannot be denied. The issue now is how to address this problem seriously. It needs political resolve and volition among the governments of the world and substantial finances to mitigate and adapt to this problem if reducing it is going to be tough and time consuming.
In the long run, drastic measures will have to be taken to reduce the GHG emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. Clean or “green” technologies will have to be invented and developed to produce cleaner and renewable energy, among other measures. This will be touched later in this paper.
2.4 The Copenhagen Summit
Touching on the coming Copenhagen summit (under the official name of the 15th Conference of the Parties or COP15), the chances of success of the 192 countries (that ratified the Kyoto Protocol) in coming to terms with the US, China and India have been improved by President Barack Obama’s stated intention to achieve an 80 per cent reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 relative to 1990 (Edge, 2009 and Duncan, E., 2009, p.105). Hopefully the sticking point on “burden sharing” in retrospective could be resolved [between the US and China] ( Doubts are cast as to the possibility of achieving amicable solutions as an extension to the Kyoto Protocol if the world’s largest emitters of GHG do not come to terms.
2.5 Pledges on the abatement of GHG
Some of the developed countries that have unilaterally pledged to reduce their GHG emissions by 2050 are as follows (Adam, 2008):
· The United Kingdom: 60 per cent relative to 1990
· France : 75 per cent relative to 2000
· Germany: 80 per cent relative to 1990
· Sweden: 50 per cent relative to 2004
· Canada: 80 per cent relative to 1990
However, over-ambitious targets such as these may well be difficult to achieve. If these targets were to be used as the yardsticks they may not be acceptable to emerging market countries like China and India, according to Carlo Carraro, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Venice (Duncan,2009,p.55 and Khor, 2009a).
Karen Harbert of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy opined that the American medium-term goal to cut CO2 emissions to at least 14 per cent in relative to 2005 level would mean that the country will have to build 320 new zero emission 500 megawatt coal fired power plants or 130 new nuclear power stations (Duncan, op. cit.).
To cut the emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in relative to 1990 would mean at least 5 times the number of clean coal power plants or nuclear power stations. This is going to be a mammoth task, indeed.
3.0 External reductions approaches
For external reductions, the approaches are producing renewables through clean technologies to generate power, implementing carbon sequestration and scrubbing and involving in carbon offsetting via clean development mechanism (CDM) sanctioned by the Kyoto Protocol. However, carbon offsetting does not really reduce the GHG emissions but rather transfer the problem to others who sell the carbon credits, a mechanism of the CDM(Tan, 2009a p.T2).
Carbon sequestration can be done through carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, the technique is still at its infancy stage and the impacts of the possible CO2 escape from the storage areas are less known. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom Government is optimistic about the technology and has instructed that all coal plants should have CCS fully fitted by the early 2020s (Webb and Macalister, 2009, p.28). However, it is rather doubtful, if this could be achieved without government financial aid (Arnott, 2009, p.42)
In short, it is not yet ready (Webb, 2009, pp.26 and Holly-Davis, 2009b, p.11). Despite this, a number of companies in the UK are exploring seriously to export the CCS technology as its global market in 2008 alone has been estimated to be around £13.28 billion (RM 77.03 billion) (Jha, 2009, pp. 26&27).

3.1 Green technologies to produce renewables and reduce GHG
The aim for any country now is to go for a low-carbon economy, slashing its dependency on fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil for electricity generation. The UK government is determined to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable low-carbon sources [or just renewables] from the present 6 per cent to at least 31 per cent by 2020 (Webster and Pagnamenta, 2009, p.3). Among the renewables are: solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power and biofuels.
Nuclear will be reduced from the present 13 per cent to a mere 8 per cent and this is quite surprising as nuclear itself is a low-carbon energy resource. Surprisingly coal and gas will still remain as the major fossil fuels to generate power by then (Fortson, 2009a p.8). The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to reduce CO2 emissions will be a compulsory add-on to the new and existing coal-fired power stations (Webb and Macalister, 2009 p.28).
Macalister (2009a, p.6) reported the following target distribution of both fossil fuels and renewables or energy generation mix between now and 2020 in the UK:

Fuel Resource
6 per cent
31 per cent
32 per cent
22 per cent
13 per cent
8 per cent
45 per cent
29 per cent

Touching on the intended reduction of nuclear as a fuel source to be replaced by renewables like wind power, Macalister (2009b, p.15) provides the following comparison:
Table3: Comparison between Wind Farm and Nuclear Power Station

Overall cost of generating electricity/KWh
5.42p [31.44 sen]
2.8p [16.24 sen]
Cost of fuel per MWh
£4 [RM23.20]
Speed of build
5 years
8 years+
15 years
50 years
Waste Produced
Several grades of radioactive substances, some that remain dangerous for thousands of years
Lifetime carbon footprint[g CO2 equivalent/KWh]
4.64g [onshore]
5.25g [offshore]
Source: Macalister, T (2009, p.15)
Obviously, looking at the table, a nuclear power station is more efficient than a host of turbines in a wind farm to generate the grid parity of per kWh of electricity. Furthermore a nuclear station will last longer.
There is little difference between both power generators in their lifetime carbon footprints, i.e., around an average of 5 gram of CO2[e] for every kWh of electricity produced. As such both can be categorised as low-carbon energy source. The only barrier is nuclear’s dangerous waste production, which can be stored away in a more safe and efficient manner, given the advancement in the pertinent technology. Reducing nuclear power stations means more wind farms, particularly, will have to be developed.
This will not come easy as already protests have been staged by activists with regard to the wind farms’ setbacks in dotting the landscape with their massive and ugly turbines, their unnecessary noise pollution and interfering with radio waves/telecommunication signals to cite a few (Slavin and Jha, 2009, p.9).

A rough guide to the green technologies
It is necessary at this point to look critically at the currently available and proposed green technologies as part of the external reductions that could harness low-carbon renewables to generate energy and abate CO2 emissions. Goodall (2008) summarises these technologies in his book “Ten Technologies to Save the Planet” as follows:
· Capturing the wind – large-scale turbines collectively constructed in wind farms (which are actively pursued by many developed countries);
· Harnessing solar energy – large installation of solar photovoltaic thin-film panels [PV] and concentrated solar thermal power plants [CSP]. Jansen (2009, p.11) has reported a group of serious players in Europe is planning to invest US 560 bn [RM 1.9 trillion] to implement the CSP plants in the Sahara desert to provide 15 per cent of EU power. However, its implementation is doubtful as the cost of producing electricity via the CSP is around Euro 0.15 per kW against Euro 0.06 per kW produced by coal or nuclear stations.
· Electricity from the oceans – tidal-stream energy machines [like the Lunar Energy, OpenHydro and MCT turbines], power from the waves [like the Pelamis (off the coast of Portugal) or Finavera wave collector/generator or “Anaconda”, see McGourty, 2009], the Gulf Stream/other ocean currents using the larger version of the MCT and lastly, exploiting the difference in temperature between the warm surface waters and the colder depths [an experimental but most likely not feasible proposal is the OTEC or ocean thermal energy conversion plant];
· Combined heat and power or CHP [example, Ceramic Fuel Cells and district heat and power];
· Super-efficient homes system – Passivhaus (to be discussed in the later part of this paper), carbon neutral buildings, zero carbon house and eco-renovations;
· Cellulose-ethanol second-generation biofuels to run motors. The irony about biofuels is that large scale deforestation activities in developing countries like Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia are being carried out to be replaced by crops like oil palm as the price of such green fuel rose by 45 per cent this year (2009). Massive cutting down of trees and widespread burning of forests have resulted in the pollution of waterways, liberation of methane from the soil and reduction of carbon sinks (Sheridan 2009, p.28)
· Carbon sequestration – carbon capture and storage [CCS], Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle [IGCC], large scale algae bio fixation plants, ambient scrubbing devices like GRT machines for “scrubbing” the air to capture C02.
· Biochar – sequestering carbon as charcoals. Biochar [bio-charcoal] to be added to the soil to increase fertility to speed up the growth of plants and crops on a massive scale that will in turn consume more CO2.
In addition, Gary Spirnak, founder of Solaren Corp in the US, is developing futuristic orbiting solar farms comprising satellites with arrays of solar panels that will convert the power generated into radio frequency transmissions. The radio waves, unaffected by day/night weather or seasons, would then be beamed back down to ground-based antennae that will convert them to electricity (Goldenberg, 2009b p.3). When others fail, this technology may look promising in the future.
Another invention is the technology to use excess electricity produced by wind turbines at night to compress air into a suitable underground cavern. The compressed air would be released during the daytime [when wind velocity is normally low] and channelled towards the turbines to drive them consistently. It may sound weird, but the principle behind this technology has been applied 25 years ago at Huntdorf, Germany (O’Connell 2009a, p.10).
Leake (2009b, p.11) has reported that the Royal Society is backing a geo-engineering research into stimulated volcanic eruptions, spraying sulphate-based particles into the stratosphere that could reflect extra sunlight into space. If feasible, the technique is expected to reduce surface temperature by 2C. Other curious ideas are the “synthetic trees” to strip CO2 from the atmosphere; “space sunshades” to block sunlight; and “cloud ships” to generate clouds that could reflect sunlight back into space.
In the construction industry, a start-up called Novacem has been developing in its lab at the Imperial College, London, “an eco-friendly concrete that eats up CO2 “(Stone 2009b, p.10). Novacem uses magnesium oxide and other mineral additives in its innovative cement that hardens up by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. It claims that the cement’s carbon footprint on per tonne basis is only between 200kg and 400kg compared to around 700kg for the conventional Portman cement. This sounds promising in the quest for the greener materials in the development of the carbon neutral buildings.

GHG emissions abatement and changing lifestyle
On the ardent quest to develop and implement green technologies to reduce energy consumption and thus abating their accompanying emissions, Cambridge University physicist Professor David Mackay poses an interesting question: “...will a switch to advanced technologies allow us to eliminate carbon-dioxide pollution without changing our lifestyle?” (MacKay 2009, p.10 and his arguments in his online free book assessable at Incidentally, Professor MacKay, who always challenges the replacement of conventional forms of power generation with alternatives such as wind, tidal or nuclear, was recently named the UK government’s scientific adviser on climate change (O’Connell 2009b, p.11).
The inability to change our lifestyle and the need for developing countries like China to develop strong export-based manufacturing remain a stumbling block to the effectiveness of implementing policies and new technologies on GHG emissions ( Jun 2009, p.28). However a secret back-channel negotiations between the US and China aims at securing understanding on climate change holding some promises in agreeing to the possibility of cuts in the coming UN Copenhagen meeting (Goldenberg 2009a, pp.1&2).
This points to the difficulty of adopting new and greener technologies. It is the behaviour of individuals and the attitude of some governments that act as barriers to the acceptance of such technologies (Tahir, T., 2009 p.1)

Financial implications of GHG reductions
Japan announced a 15 trillion Yen [RM612 billion] stimulus package to boost green economy in 2009. The generation of power by harnessing renewables via green technologies topped the list (McCurry and Kollewe, 2009, p.28). South Korea too has put aside a relatively huge chunk of her 2009 budget of £23bn [RM138 billion] [equivalent to 2.6 per cent of her GDP] to boost green measures (Watts 2009, p.20).
Vinod Khosla, one of the biggest investors in green technology or “eco-barons” has warned that putting huge amount of money in finding solutions to peripheral problems like solar power and electric cars will not work if the four main ones – oil, coal, cement and steel – accounting for 75 per cent of GHG emissions are not properly addressed. “...the environmentalists are wrong. We don’t need to use less energy. We need to find new solutions “remarked Vinod (Rushe, 2009 p.10). This paper intends to set a stage for the development of low-carbon buildings by basing on Mr Vinod’s statement.
As such, right from the start, it has made a caveat that finding solutions to the GHG emissions by buildings as a whole must not be based on parochial views like reducing the use of concrete or mechanical appliances to cool down or heat up buildings. External reductions of the emissions at the source must be given greater weightage.

4.0 Internal reductions approaches
For internal reductions, various approaches are continuously being explored. Among them are the choice of appropriate designs and construction techniques; the quest for a comfort level within the internal space by depending less on electrical and mechanical aids; the choice of sustainable materials, elements, components and their disposition that consume less energy and produce less CO2 in manufacturing, transporting and assembling them (the whole supply chain); and the reduction of the utilization of energy and thereby reducing associated GHG emissions to operate and maintain the buildings. Internal reductions measures have been incorporated in various green building methods/standards/rating systems.

Neutral carbon buildings are probably an idealistic target. It also means a strive towards achieving “zero carbon emissions” building development which is essentially a tall order. This paper discusses neutral carbon buildings on a hypothetical basis. However, it will focus on a more practical “low-carbon or low energy” initiatives in the lifecycle of buildings, i.e., from the design and construction stages to operation and maintenance phases. It should also include refurbishments, reuse and deconstruction.
In the UK, the low-carbon features are now mandatory under the UK’s Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 and the Energy Performance of Building Directive - Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and Council 2003. This directive must be implemented by member countries by 4th January 2006 (Gibson 2006). The goal is to reduce the buildings’ consumption of energy by 22 per cent from the present 40 per cent by 2010.
However, during this period of economic depression, it may well be difficult for developers to comply with the regulations. They may be willing to pay the fine and shun such demand (that buildings in the UK must be carbon neutral by 2016) (see Stone, 2009a p.9).
There are several guidelines or rating systems on the development of such buildings. Among them are:
· LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [USA]
· BREEAM or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method [UK]
· GREEN STAR [Building Council of Australia]
· HK-BEAM or Hong-Kong – Building Environment Assessment Method
· CASBEE or Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency [Japan]
· NABERS or (The) National Australian Built Environment Rating System
· ABGR or Australian Building Greenhouse Rating
· EcoProfile [Sweden]
· EcoEffect [Sweden]
· ByggaBoDialogen or Building-Living Dialogue [Sweden]
· Green Mark System [Singapore]
· GBI or Green Building Index [Malaysia] – see Appendix A on the brief explanation on the GBI.
There are many useful books on the design of green buildings that can be referred to. Among them are the works by Waterfield (2000); Kilbert (2005); Hall (2006); Griffiths (2007); Low et. al. (2007) and Berman (2008).

4.1 The Passivhaus buildings, Zero-Carbon homes and Eco-Renovations
The Passivhaus is a building design concept mooted by a group of Swedish academic architects led by German engineer, Dr Wolfgang Feist in an attempt to meet the need of low-cabon demand in the built environment. Passivhaus buildings are so well insulated and smartly designed that they do not require a full heating system nor air-conditioner for the summer. Heating and cooling of buildings are indeed climate-damaging activity. Managing the temperatures of buildings is the single most important task in saving the energy and thus reducing CO2 emissions (Godall, op. cit. 2008, pp. 119-142).
The first buildings using the Passivhaus concept are terrace homes in Darmstadt, Germany, completed in 1991. There are now 10,000 certified Passivhaus homes around the world and most of them are in Germany and Austria.
A properly constructed Passivhaus home, insulated to the highest standards, should have energy consumption for heating of less than 10 kWh a year for each metre square of floor area (about sixteen times less than the average home in the UK). As such there is no need for expensive photovoltaic panels or domestic wind turbines, except, perhaps, a few solar collectors for heating water.
According to Wolfgang Feist, achieving energy efficiency “...simply requires the builder or renovator to focus on five key principles: excellent wall insulation; small high-quality three-layered glass with thermal barriers windows; air tightness; a lack of ‘bridges’ that coduct cold into the house from the outside air; and a ventilation system that brings fresh air into the house and preheats it using warm, stale air extracted from the main rooms” (Goodall, op.cit. p.123).
The Passivhaus principles were also used to refurbish/renovate homes. It has been proven that houses refurbished to Passivhaus standards have achieved a reduction of 25 kWh/metre2 of energy for heating compared to the original 180kWh/m2 before being refurbished (case study: the 1957 apartment block in Linz, Austria refurbished to the Passivhaus standards (see Goodall, op. cit. pp.138&139).
Almost similarly is the Zero-Carbon home, nicknamed the “ Potton Lighthouse” developed by a British firm, Kingspan. It has photovoltaic panels on the roof combined with high standard insulation and airtightness. As wood is not categorised in the zero-cabon calculation [being a renewable], a wood-burning boiler providing supplementary heat is part of the concept.
However, being neutral or zero carbon buildings come with a price that is almost twice higher than the conventional ones. Solar panels to generate electricity for a typical house would cost between £8,000 [RM48,000] and £20,000[RM120,000], saving a mere £250 a year on electrical bills. The break-even for the solar panels could well be at least 32 years (Ali Hussain 2009, pp.4&5).

An example of low-carbon building designed by Malaysia’s renowned architect
Malaysian architect, Dr Ken Yeang (who prefers to be known as an ecologist first) is among a handful world renowned practitioner practising green building design and production since 1970s. His latest project, a £300 m [RM1.8 bn] extension to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, will generate 29 per cent more power than it uses. This should offset at least 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year once the building is in operation. A mix of green measures is incorporated in the building to use less energy and recycle/reuse whatever left-overs produced by the users of the building (Stone, 2009c p.10).

5.0 Conclusion
This paper has discussed carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal gas, from a mix of external and internal reductions. The surge in the man-made or anthropogenic GHG emissions since the industrial revolution is linked to the unprecedented increase in the average surface temperatures globally that, in turn, drives climate change.
External reductions are steps taken by the world community ot mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming. Among them are the development of green technologies to generate renewables and reduce GHG emissions and ratification and enforcement of international agreements like the clean development mechanism (CDM) for carbon offsetting as sanctioned by the Kyoto protocol.
Internal reductions are measures to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings. These can be achieved by encouraging owners and users to reduce energy consumption, help produce renewables on a smaller scale and adopt green buildings practices for new development and the renovation of existing stocks. Green building practices like Passivhaus, Potton Lighthouse and Eco-Renovations were studied with regard to their feasibility and effectiveness. While green building rating and certification initiaves like LEED, BREEAM, CRISP, GREEN STAR, HK-BEAM, CASBEE, NABERS, ABGR, EcoProfile, EcoEffect, Green Mark System and Green Building Index were presented for discussion.

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Appendix A

Key environmental thinkers
On passing, it is important to acknowledge the pioneers or key environmental thinkers who managed to raise public awareness on the environmental problems in general and global warming that generates climate change, in particular.
Carson (1967) through her book, Silent Spring made a wake-up call on the problem of pollution arising from the uncontrolled use of chemicals to eliminate agricultural pests in the US. The Club of Rome, MIT, USA published an influential report “Limits to Growth” giving warnings on the depleting resources, especially the energy (Forrester, 1972). Lovelock (1987) in his Gaia hypothesis makes us think how Planet Earth maintains itself all this while in the face of the onslaught of series of global warming and ice age since its formation if it is not a living organism itself.
Before this, George Perkins Marsh (1901-1882), an American agriculturalist who wrote “Man and Nature” in 1864 was probably the first person to have made the following statement in reference to the human-induce climate change (Goodwin,2008,p.5):
“... it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed....or deteriorated by human action”.
In 1827, Jean Baptise Joseph Fourier (1768-1830) a French mathematician suggested that heat is trapped near the earth as the atmosphere behaves like “the glass of a hothouse”, paving the phrase “greenhouse effect” ( Goodwin, op.cit. p.7).
In 1860 John Tyndall (1820-1893), an Irish physicist found the amount of heat (infrared radiation from the sun) that CO2 could absorb and in 1894, Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), a Swedish chemist posited that the human-induced or “anthropogenic” CO2 continuous emissions, as a result of the industrial revolution would result in global warming (Goodwin, op. cit. pp.6&7).

This brief article is abstracted from the PAM’s greenbuildingindex Sdn Bhd’s website.

SummaryGBI is developed by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM). It is a profession driven initiative to lead the Malaysian property industry towards becoming more environment-friendly. From its inception GBI has received the full support of Malaysia’s building and property players. It is intended to promote sustainability in the built environment and raise awareness among Developers, Architects, Engineers, Planners, Designers, Contractors and the Public about environmental issues. The rating system will provide opportunity for developers to design and construct green, sustainable buildings that can provide energy savings, water savings, a healthier indoor environment, better connectivity to public transport and the adoption of recycling and greenery for their projects.
Buildings will be awarded the GBI Malaysia rating based on 6 key criteria:• Energy Efficiency• Indoor Environmental Quality• Sustainable Site Planning and Management• Materials and Resources• Water Efficiency• Innovation
Achieving points in these targeted areas will mean that the building will likely be more environment-friendly than those that do not address the issues. Under the GBI assessment framework, points will also be awarded for achieving and incorporating environment-friendly features which are above current industry practice.
The assessment process involves an assessment at design stage leading to the award of the provisional GBI rating. Final award is given one year after the building is first occupied. Buildings will also have to be re-assessed every three years in order to maintain their GBI rating to ensure that buildings are well-maintained. Buildings are awarded GBI Malaysia - Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified ratings depending on the scores achieved.
Building owners, developers and consultants can make applications for GBI assessment via submission of an application form and payment of the requisite fee to Greenbuildingindex Sdn Bhd (GSB). Applicants may then choose to appoint a GBI accredited Facilitator to provide professional services. GSB will appoint accredited Certifiers to assess the projects. Upon completion of the assessment process, the Certifier’s report will be forwarded to the GBI Accreditation Panel (GBIAP) to register and award the certification.
GBI will provide an assessable differentiation to promote environment-friendly buildings for the future of Malaysia. It is a benchmarking rating system that incorporates internationally recognised best practices in environmental design and performance.
BackgroundGreenhouse gasses and ozone depletion became household words following the Earth Summit in Rio, 1992. Since then Green building ratings began to be developed in the 1990s with BREEAM (UK, 1990) and later LEED (USA, 1996) being the better known ones. This was the result of the realization that buildings and the built environment contributes significantly to green house gas emissions and thus they needed to be re-designed to reduce their negative impact to the environment. The notion of buildings being “machines for living” is proven true as buildings do last a long time and over that lifetime they do play a part in adding to the destruction of the environment. Green rating tools were conceived to be able to assist architects, designers, builders, government bodies, building owners, developers and end users to understand the impact of each design choice and solution. By so doing, the final built product would perform better in its location whilst also reducing its harmful impact on the surroundings.
Green rating tools by its nature and role is very dependent upon location and environment and thus climate. A quick survey of existing Green Rating tools available in the world today will show all of them concentrated within the temperate climate zones. Some better known ones include UK’s BREEAM, USA’s LEED, Japan’s CASBEE and Australia’s GREENSTAR.
Malaysia’s Green Building Index or GBI will be the only rating tool for the tropical zones other than Singapore Government’s GREENMARK. GREENMARK was first launched in 2005. In April 2008, it became mandatory for all new buildings or works on existing buildings exceeding 2,000sq.m in floor area to achieve a minimum GREENMARK Certified rating in Singapore. Whilst GREENMARK’s operational parameters are within the tropical climate, its scoring priorities are very much customized for the current state of Singapore where a lot of priority is given to energy and water efficiency scores. In addition its public transport network is also already in place and thus little priority is given to this in the ratings. Malaysia differs markedly in these areas and thus understandably our rating priorities should be like-wise customized to suit – both to our climate and also the current state of our country’s development and existing resources.

Daro’ Sr Dr Kamarudin M. Nor FISM, FRICS, MBEng., MCIArb
Formerly Visiting Professor, School of Environmental Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Perlis.

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