From Net Zero to Net Positive

19 May 2021

From Net Zero to Net Positive

Net zero and beyond

Even though it is not always easy to measure the performance of climate commitments, there is an increasing trend in the number of regions and companies pledged to net zero targets that definitely will help achieve the challenge from net zero to net positive.

But are these strategies enough to tackle climate change?

Net zero stands for a result of 0 emissions, a neutrality between the produced emissions of GHG to the atmosphere and the removed ones. This balance can be achieved by entities by reducing the emissions they generate to the lowest, while eliminating or offsetting the remainder. The result would be the minimal impact on the environment from GHG.

Implementation status of Net Zero strategies

There are several ways to implement net zero aiming strategies, the most direct one is the reduction of emissions through the use of electricity.

The removals or offsets for carbon dioxide emissions might not be enough to achieve a complete neutralization. Moreover, they can lead to divert attention from the need to set effective measures, that is, the ones working on avoiding the emissions.

In order to make the implementation effective and avoid greenwashing practices, there ought to be higher standards for transparency. Having more accurate knowledge of the measures taken by companies will help consumers and investors take informed decisions concerning the damage done on the planet. Plus, with accurate data, goals can be set and eventually achieved.

Market Response to environmental policies

Everyday more companies and cities are adopting environmental policies to neutralize their impact. The distribution of these entities over the world might not be equitable, but the important part is that it is rising.

Proportion of cities for each continent making net zero pledges
Proportion of cities for each continent making net zero pledges. Sources: Data-Driven EnviroLab & NewClimate Institute

In the private sector, there is a wide variety on types of pledges, targets and policies aiming at net zero. The consumer discretionary is the most active sector in terms of companies committing to net-zero pledges (195), followed by industrials (171 companies).

Real Estate industry towards Net Zero strategies

As a large contributor to climate change, the Real Estate sector (accountable for 40% of material use, 40% of energy consumption and 30% of GHG emissions on a global scale) needs to take some action.

Currently, the market approach is to create a circular shared value, based on electrification (buildings powered with renewable energy) and technological innovation (for instance with smart houses, designed to improve their efficiency). In addition, circular economy has a bright future in the sector, since plenty of raw materials, water and energy are demanded from the first setting-up until demolition.

In terms of net zero, a new plan is in action: all new buildings and refurbishments made since 2020 must be aligned with nearly Zero Energy Building principles by law in the EU. This means structures will be high performance buildings, so they generate the same energy that they consume, thus relying on renewable energy.

From Net Zero to Net Positive

A level of 0 emissions and a reduction of energy consumption can have a big impact, but it might not be enough. The Real Estate sector has a great opportunity to create a positive effect and move the industry to a really sustainable development.

As stated in the EMF report “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change” (2019), 45% of hard-to-avoid emissions are related to the way we make and use products. The circular economy applied to products can help reduce global emissions by 9.3 Gt CO2e in 2050.

That is why we need a new perspective that takes into account the choice of materials and systems that compose buildings throughout their whole cycle of use, -and future use cycles -. This approach incorporates net-zero concepts and creates a holistic management to achieve long-term, effective goals.

To move from a 0 impact target towards a regenerative action we need to understand the carbon cycle in the circular economy -which is not properly measured by the current carbon footprint methodologies-. By using healthy materials and managing them along several use cycles we can prevent extractive activities, material depletion and emissions related to these activities and the manufacturing of new products.

Integrating energy strategies, materials management and natural resources protection into the real estate may bring a new perspective and future-proof value. To build back better we need to focus on creating shared value, while minimizing negative impact.


Adapted from original article “The path to net-zero and Beyond” by Ingrid Campi Laib.