LIVE Interview: Getting to Zero Today

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 I sat down with Mr. Steven Borncamp in his appearance on the panel of Getting to Net Zero Today, in which a panel of experts on net zero building gathered together to discuss their views of how we get net zero building and retrofitting to be the norm in today’s real estate industry.

On the panel: Moderator and Executive Director of the New Buildings Institute, Speakers Steven Borncamp, Managing Director of International Future Living Institute, Europe, Kasper Guldager Jorgensen, Partner 3XN and Director GXN of 3XN architects and Arch. Massimo Roj, Founder & Principal of Progetto CMR who brought his construction expert Piero Sartore on the panel as well.

Net Zero is the new pinnacle of a truly green society. Net zero buildings fully produce, gather and/or store in a non-toxic, non-wasteful & eco-restorative process all of the energy required for their function and operation.  Mr. Borncamp is the Europe, Managing Director for International Future Living Institute (IFLI) a leading, green-visionary organization and administrator of the Living Building Challenge .  IFLI’s Living Building Challenge is a direct call for real estate industry participants to start thinking and doing green when it comes to buildings.  Mr. Borncamp passionately asserted on the panel that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way people think about Net Zero.  Net Zero buildings should not be thought of through the narrow and short term lens of simply upfront costs and discounted with the question–How can we afford to build Net Zero?  The long-term view with greater risk assumptions included is that we cannot afford not to start building and retrofitting to Net Zero standards today.

Trends of the future and the logical reason behind IFLI’s mission is (1) the cost of energy down the road as the global population pushes toward 9 billion & conflicts ensue around the world over resources, (2) the increasingly negative effects of climate change from wasteful and toxic emitting culture and (3) the rising demand from buyers and tenants for certifiably green buildings for both the financial and aesthetic benefits offered.

Borncamp’s presentation during the panel session lead with the idea that buildings should have the environmental impact of a flower.  Buildings are 45% of the UK’s carbon emissions (a) and in the U.S., buildings account for 39% of total U.S. energy consumption (b) so one of the biggest ways we can solve our energy inefficiencies & toxicity issues is to focus there.  Borncamp made the persuasive argument to investors, building owners, vendors, engineers and others in the room that yes, we can absolutely achieve Net Zero today and without major innovations in technology although those would help.  Today, Net Zero buildings have been achieved through project management and design features not technological as some may believe is a barrier to net zero feasibility.  Borncamp differentiated IFLI from other green certification organizations saying “all rating tools have done a fantastic job of mobilizing the industry–LEED, BREEAM, HQE, but we need to be more than less bad.” The Living Building status offered by IFLI indicates a building is not only less bad, but actually self-sustaining of energy needs, ecologically restorative and beneficial to its surroundings–just like a flower.  The certification through IFLI also differentiates from other certifications in that achievement is based on overall building performance and not a check list.  You can even set new standards through arguing how you’ve developed a method of net zero that works specifically for your site.

Borncamp highlighted the Bullet Center in Seattle as a successful net zero building which proves that if you can achieve Living Building status in the U.S. where buildings tend to be larger, there are no reasons why you can’t do the same in Europe.  Though Borncamp argues that cost and nascent technological innovation in this area should not be a net zero building deterrents, he does address the issue by saying “the first iPhone cost $150 million dollars, the second generation $6 million.” Essentially, as we push forward with what we have today which is a lot of proven effective methods to achieve Net Zero we will become more efficient and the upfront costs will go down.

What’s next for IFLI  and Mr. Borncamp is “Campaign 2020” setting net zero as the building target for Europe.  They want to put out information on every various building typologies that can go net zero because where you build determined your unique path to achieving net zero.  Offices were the first asset type in Europe to go net zero now they’re moving into malls and beyond.  The goal is to show everyone that net zero is possible today.



Written by Lauren M Burns, University of San Diego. Lauren is a 2015 MSRE Candidate at the University of San Diego and California licensed Realtor for Blue Chip Realty Group.  She appreciates her generalist education in all aspects of commercial real estate for preparing her to fully transition into the field and serve the business community as a knowledgeable leader and innovator. @Laurenderella


Image: Image & Co. / S Halloy

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