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Want to actually fix the environment? Change how buildings are built

It’s official: The United States is recommitting to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and capping global warming under 1.5ºC. In doing so, the federal government now rejoins nearly 4,000 U.S. businesses, cities, counties, states, and tribes that declared “We’re Still In” following the United States’s previous withdrawal from the agreement. So how do we make progress while also managing through a global pandemic? We need to talk about buildings.

When it comes to carbon emissions, our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, shops—the places where we live, work, play, grow, connect—are major polluters. They account for 74% of national electricity consumption and about a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions nationally, more than any other sector. And that’s not factoring in their embodied carbon—that is, the CO2 emissions generated by producing and acquiring the materials we use to construct and maintain buildings—nor how they affect the health of occupants and communities. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

For decades, our respective organizations—Architecture 2030, Institute for Market Transformation, International WELL Building Institute, New Buildings Institute, and Wickham James Strategies & Solutions—have been exploring how government intervention, business leadership, building industry professional practices, and technology innovation can change this. Now is the time for us to collectively transform buildings from major emissions generators to central solutions to the climate crisis while also improving public health, creating jobs, and strengthening community resilience.

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