The week of 25 September to 1 October promises to be a busy time for sustainability campaigners, finds Caroline Hand.

Our Hero is Zero!

As well as being Recycle Week (see article Ready for Recycle Week), it is also World Green Building Week. This year’s theme is Our Hero is Zero — referring to a target of making all buildings net zero by 2050. Seeing that buildings are currently responsible for a third of carbon emissions, this would be a major step towards achieving our climate change goals. The Week is led by the World Green Building Council (WGBC), its network of more than 70 Green Building Councils and their 32,000 member companies (see for more information on the WGBC).

What is a net-zero building?

For the uninitiated, net zero refers to carbon emissions. A net-zero building does not emit any carbon to the atmosphere — and the very greenest buildings will take out more carbon than they put in! Net zero is achieved through using clean, renewable energy — particularly solar or wind — for lighting and heating, and making the building as energy efficient as possible. The message of this year’s Week is that “Buildings can be heroes — and so can you”.

The campaign is not primarily about sharing tips to make buildings greener. Instead, it aims to raise awareness among the business community and the public about the significance of buildings for climate change. People who visit the campaign website are encouraged to share messages such as:

Did you know our building contributes to climate change? If we work together we can make this building a net zero hero and help in the fight against climate change.

Making our building more energy efficient will help keep our bills down and help in the fight against climate change. Who’s in?

Some heroes to emulate

The WGBC has produced a range of free downloadable resources to help partners to spread the word about Net-Zero Heroes. These include a guide on how to get involved, various social media resources including logos and banners, a PowerPoint presentation and seven eye-catching posters of Hero buildings. As it is a worldwide initiative, the web banners, social media images and posters are available in English and Spanish, and without text for non-English speaking countries. 

Heroes featured on the posters include:

  • Barangaroo South in Sydney, Australia — targeted to be Australia’s first large-scale carbon neutral community. The energy used in the buildings is offset by the solar power generated on the buildings’ rooftops. The towers include vertical shading panels aligned to the sun’s path which reduce the need for cooling.

  • Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte: the first stadium in Brazil to be fitted with a solar-powered roof. As well as powering the stadium, this sends enough energy to the local grid to power 1000 homes per year.

  • “Energiesprong” houses: the aim of Energiesprong UK is to stimulate a game-changing housing refurbishment sector in the UK — inspired by the Dutch-Energiesprong approach — and make net zero housing a reality. The programme has already delivered over 800 refurbishments in the Netherlands.

  • Zero Cottage: San Francisco’s first net zero, passive house. It incorporates a solar canopy with 16 solar photovoltaic collectors, which generates more energy than the building requires in the course of the year. In keeping with the surrounding ecology, the house also benefits from a living roof made of succulents! (cacti)

If you’re inspired

Commissioning, designing or constructing a new building? For those whose attention has been grabbed by the awareness-raising campaign, the WGBC website offers practical advice on developing green buildings. This encompasses the whole range of sustainability issues (water, waste, noise, etc) but several of the guidelines are particularly relevant to energy and climate change.

  • Minimising energy use in all stages of a building’s life cycle, from design, construction, operation and maintenance, through to renovation and eventual demolition. 

  • Integrating renewable and low-carbon technologies to supply buildings’ energy needs, once their design has maximised inbuilt and natural efficiencies. 

  • Incorporating natural light.

  • Creating the right indoor temperature through passive design or building management and monitoring systems.

  • Ensuring transport and distance to amenities are considered in design.

  • Exploring the potential of both “smart” and information communications technologies, for example, through smart electricity grids that understand how to transport energy where and when it is needed.

The WGBC has recently published a report, From Thousands to Billions — Coordinated Action Towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings by 2050. This outlines how businesses, governments and NGOs can work together to achieve the Council’s goals.

• All new buildings to operate at net zero carbon from 2030.

• 100% of buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2050.

The report can be downloaded at

Last reviewed 22 September 2017