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  • Kelly Vaughn

What the New Administration’s First Few Days Signals to the Building Industry

On January 20th, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oaths of office ushering in a new era in American politics. Throughout their campaign, Biden and Harris made a commitment to mitigating climate change as a matter of social justice a hallmark of their platform and promised to take immediate and sweeping action to ensure the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The buildings we live, work, play, and learn in will undoubtedly play a key role in US climate solutions, as well as support interrelated health and social justice outcomes. The average American spends more than 90% of their lives indoors, and there is increasing evidence that fossil fuel use in buildings is threatens our health and wellness, especially among vulnerable populations.

VIBE believes that buildings can be a key part of the climate solution, instead of the problem, and proven solutions exist to make buildings vastly more energy efficient, smarter, more resilient, and powered by renewable sources. While the sector has made progress decoupling growth from rising emissions thanks to improved codes, design practices, customer demand, and programs and certifications, we still have a long way to go. Policy leadership can be one of the missing ingredients that eventually tips the sector over the edge, and it will serve the industry well to pay close attention to the implications of early executive actions.

1. We have a global imperative to cut building sector emissions On Wednesday, Biden signed an executive order rejoining the US into the Paris climate accord, his first major action to tackle global warming. The next major UN climate summit will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November where countries in the agreement will give updated emissions targets for the next decade. The building sector is the largest end-user of electricity, and a critical lynchpin in transitioning to a renewable power system. Not only will buildings need to reduce their carbon footprint 40% by 2030—they must move toward net-zero by 2050 to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. Global, national, and increasingly state and municipal goals, policies, and codes are aligning behind these scientifically validated targets. It will soon be both an expectation and requirement that buildings are climate-friendly constructed and operated to net-zero standards.

2. There will be increased accountability and transparency As most news headlines focused on Paris, a less splashy development may prove to have a more immediate and widespread impact on building energy use. As reported by Tech Crunch, it’s a section in an executive order addressing the accounting for the benefits of reducing climate pollution. It calls for a working group to come up with three metrics: the social cost of carbon, the social cost of nitrous oxide, and the social cost of methane all of which will be used to estimate the financial damages that come from increases in emissions.

These statistics can provide concrete ways to drive accountability among building owners and investors, as well as improve the business case for emission-reducing investments.

3. Get ready for green jobs in the building sector

Biden says he has a plan to retrofit four million buildings, weatherize two million homes, and build 1½ million sustainably designed homes and apartments in four years. This could have wide implications for the multifamily building sector and create jobs that save energy in buildings with proven solutions like insulation, envelop improvements, and efficient appliances and mechanical systems—as well as millions of jobs to install the clean energy that will power them.

Now we must ask ourselves, “are we properly educating and training the building workforce of the future?” Part of VIBE’s strategy is to arm today’s and tomorrow’s leading professionals with a powerful and common set of tools to build sustainably and resiliently. We are working to roll out a Sustainable Real Estate textbook, as well as launch our online course for sustainability in the built environment to bring the key lessons of the textbook into a classroom setting to empower the next generation of sustainable building leaders.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of bold action from the White House to move the building industry along a more climate-friendly path. We look forward to seeing what’s in store and supporting industry partners and professionals along the way.

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