The Top Green Building “Buzzwords” of 2021
By Kate Zeile
2021 was a crazy, tumultuous year that, truth be told, felt much like the previous one. The challenges that we faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, social inequity and racism, a mental health crisis, and climate change are ongoing battles from 2020 and before that we will continue to fight into our future.
Still, in this past year we witnessed shreds of progress and experienced the hope of healing. Unsurprisingly, the green building industry achieved positive progress in 2021 as well. To capture this, we’ve put together a list of the “buzzwords” that have characterized the green building industry this year.
In comparison to our buzzwords of 2020, this year’s strategies make it clear just how much our industry has transformed in 2021. Our 2020 buzzwords offered helpful green building ideas and concepts, whereas our 2021 buzzwords present concrete, actionable strategies we can take leading into 2022.
The 2021 Buzzwords
Electrification and Decarbonization
These two different (yet intimately related) words served as the foundations for nearly every green building-related conversation in 2021. Building decarbonization requires reducing carbon emissions through cleaner energy sources, greater energy efficiency, and lower embodied carbon materials.
Electrification is the switch from ‘dirtier’ energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and fuel oil to greener and cleaner all-electric energy sources for building heating, cooling, and hot water needs. Electrification also helps to improve air quality. The push for decarbonization in the building sector is as strong as ever, and electrification is one of the most promising pathways to get there.
Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting has quickly emerged in recent years due to strong demand from stakeholders and its beneficial impacts on corporate resilience and employee well-being. ESG reporting provides a framework for businesses to assess the current state of their environmental and social impact, disclose this information to the public, set tangible goals for continuous improvement, and track progress over time. Check out “The ABCs of ESG” for a detailed breakdown of ESG reporting, and visit our Who We Are page to see the steps that we’re taking to advance sustainability, equity, and transparency here at Verdical Group.
We love heat pumps here at Verdical Group! Heat pumps are a more energy efficient alternative to conventional heating and cooling systems like furnaces and air conditioners. Rather than burning fossil fuels to produce heat, heat pumps transfer heat into and out of buildings using refrigerants and the power of electricity. Heat pump technology can also be found in applications other than space heating and cooling, like heat pump water heaters, heat pump clothes dryers, and even heat pump pool heaters. Heat pumps are a crucial electrification strategy in the pathway to building decarbonization.
In recent years, the conversation surrounding mass timber has seemed to go from zero to one hundred. Mass timber is a sustainable, low-carbon alternative to conventional building materials such as concrete and steel. The 2021 International Building Code opened the door to higher mass timber buildings (up to 18 stories tall!) due to mass timber’s strength and stability as a building material. Mass timber offers an environmentally friendly, regenerative, and may I add beautiful solution to mitigating building sector carbon emissions. It provides a huge opportunity for innovation, and I think we’ll be seeing more and more mass timber buildings in the coming years.
The building sector has moved from net zero to net positive, with commitments transitioning from neutral impact to positive, regenerative, and restorative impact. Why strive for net zero when you can enact positive change in mitigating the climate crisis?
Net positive involves removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is released. This is accomplished by first reducing carbon emissions to the maximum extent possible, incorporating carbon sequestration strategies, and then offsetting remaining emissions and then some. This was a milestone year for Verdical Group, as we recently achieved net positive across all business operations dating back to our company founding in 2012.
Net positive may also refer to a building that produces more energy than it consumes and sells that energy back to the grid or to other local buildings.
What’s all the buzz about?
The green building industry made substantial progress and positive impact in 2021. If we had to boil down the entire year of 2021 into one sentence, here’s what it would be (feel free to use this to impress your coworkers):
The building sector’s path to a net positive future must come through the quantification of carbon emissions using ESG reporting, and through building decarbonization using key strategies such as electrification, heat pump technology, and mass timber construction.
That’s a mouthful, and it only scratches the surface — we heard a lot this year about topics and trends such as methane, compost, greenwashing, deforestation, and others that we believe will only grow in use and popularity. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2022, and hope to collaborate in the new year!