ARCHITECTURE 2030 NEWS & DEVELOPMENTS ACHIEVING ZERO: The “How-to” Framework and Toolkit for Cities

Nov 7, 2019 by

August 2019 | Announcements | International | Research & Analysis | Featured Project

Introducing Achieving Zeroa “how-to” framework and a set of tools to enable cities and sub-national governments (state, provincial, and regional) to achieve crucial emissions reduction targets in the building sector.

Reaching a 50% carbon emissions reduction in the built environment by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050, is critical if we are to successfully manage climate change. If we miss the 2030 target, we must reach zero emissions earlier than 2050. Achieving Zero provides cities with the resources necessary to meet these milestones.


Cities are responsible for over 70% of total global emissions, with buildings typically representing the majority of a city’s emissions. 

Today, half of the global population lives in cities. By 2060, total world population is expected to increase by about 2.7 billion people. At the same time, world urban population is expected to increase by 2.8 billion people, absorbing the entire population growth estimate.

Cities worldwide are projected to add about 1.5 million people every week for the foreseeable future.

Such unprecedented growth demands economic, social, and environmental innovation. Cities have consistently demonstrated the ability to innovate quickly to confront changing conditions, including rapid reconstruction and adaptation after natural disasters and the crafting of policies that address evolving social issues. Cities and sub-national governments across the globe have employed this capacity for innovation and adaptation to call for swift climate action: over 9,200 cities have currently committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

To achieve their climate commitments, cities and sub-national governments will need innovative roadmaps and new tools.


Achieving Zero provides innovative solutions based on the research and in-depth building stock analyses from the Zero Cities Project for eleven U.S. cities – Seattle, Portland, Boston, New York, Cambridge, Phoenix, San Francisco, Boulder, Washington D.C., Grand Rapids, and Minneapolis – and provides a consistent, targeted emissions reduction framework for any city or sub-national government to follow, customize and implement.

The actions required to meet 50% by 2030 and zero by 2050 emissions reduction targets for the building sector are:

  • Electricity grid decarbonization – power the building sector with carbon-free renewable electricity, and
  • Building decarbonization – employ efficiency strategies and eliminate on-site fossil fuel use by fully electrifying all buildings and/or by sourcing carbon-free thermal energy, and
  • Embodied carbon emissions reductions – reduce the embodied carbon emissions of building and infrastructure construction materials 40% today and increasing the reduction target to 45% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050.

Key strategies for new buildings are:

  • Adopt a Zero-Net-Carbon (ZNC) Code Standard. A ZNC code is a building energy standard for new building construction and major renovations that integrates cost-effective energy efficiency standards with on-site and/or off-site carbon-free renewable electricity sources (see Architecture 2030’s ZERO Code), and
  • Require fully electric buildings and/or source carbon-free thermal energy.

Key strategies for existing buildings are:

  • A Big Buildings Policy. Due to the relatively small number of existing big buildings, consider short-term and long-term date-certain energy upgrade policies that allow ample time to align with capital improvement cycles, and
  • A Small Buildings Policy. Accelerate small building energy upgrades by enacting policies at specific building intervention points such as point-of-sale, point-of-lease, major renovations and equipment replacements.

A relatively few BIG buildings and many SMALL buildings are responsible for building sector greenhouse gas emissions.

To address embodied carbonenact prescriptive and performance specifications and policies for low- to carbon-positive infrastructure, buildings and materials.

In addition to detailed information on the above strategies, tools for implementation, and robust policy precedents, the Achieving Zero website highlights the results of the Zero Cities Project that informed the development of the Achieving Zero Framework.

Visit Achieving Zero today!

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