Decarbonizing the Built Environment: Analyzing the Biden-Harris Administration’s Recent Initiatives on Sustainable Construction

The United States Government’s Welcome Recent Influence 

As the need to decarbonize the built environment gains attention in the news and other multimedia outlets, conversations tend to focus on why we should construct our environment more sustainably, and less on why we haven’t. This is not to say “why we should” is less important than “why we haven’t,” but often, it can be more expensive to design and build sustainably. Without appropriate incentives or mandates, builders might opt for the more lucrative option. In most cases, having certain rewards or punishments in place can be the catalyst that drives contractors and developers to design, build, and operate our physical assets in a greener, more carbon-cognizant manner.  

In Europe, decarbonization policies are in place with specific targets to reach by specified dates. For example, things like the “EU Green Buildings Pact” are designed to make public and residential buildings more climate-friendly by improving insulation and energy efficiency. The United States has followed suit, most notably with the Inflation Reduction Act, one of the largest investments in Climate Tech/clean energy. This article will highlight the Biden-Harris Administration's recent influence on the sector and its potential impact

Is Converting Commercial Properties to Residential a Long-Term Solution?

A few themes from the Biden-Harris Administration’s recent announcement to convert commercial properties into more affordable housing parallels major topics covered in BuiltWorlds’ Building tech track — making sure our existing buildings operate energy efficiently while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately helping to combat the climate crisis. The Administration's actions are broken into three components: 

  • Sparking Investment through New Federal Funding and Repurposing Property
  • Leveraging Federal Funding to Encourage Conversions
  • Working with States, Localities, and the Private Sector to Take Action

Especially noteworthy for eligible multifamily builders and developers, the Treasury highlights various tax incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act that are intended to aid in “lowering the investment costs associated with energy efficiency upgrades, clean electricity generation projects, or even the new or substantial reconstruction and rehabilitation of homes meeting certain Energy Star or Zero Energy Ready Home Program energy efficiency standards.” 

Based on recent investment and historical metrics, it’s evident that energy generation and optimization will continue to play a pivotal role in the sector's operational emissions moving forward. That’s why BuiltWorlds identified “Energy Systems & HVAC” as one of the four subcategories within our Building Tech Research Track. Members can join the track for in-depth, primary research on adoption, utilization, and satisfaction trends, in addition to the opportunity to discuss emerging tech with their peers in small group meetings.

 - Calling Architects, Engineers, Owners and Operators - 

Take the Building Tech Survey to be included in the 2024 research and receive a personalized tech assessment report, which benchmarks your technology solutions against the broader industry.

First-time survey participants receive a free assessment. The results will be aggregated and released as part of the 2024 Building Tech Report and presented at the Buildings Conference in May.

Another avenue to cut emissions is through material selection. Various high-performance materials, despite a potentially higher upfront cost, have the potential to significantly cut operation emissions over a period of time.

On November 6th the Biden-Harris Administration announced $2 billion for cleaner construction projects to tackle the climate crisis, in turn, spurring American innovation, and creating good-paying jobs as part of their Investing in America agenda. These funds from the US General Services Administration (GSA) will help finance 150 low-carbon materials projects in communities nationwide. Among the 150 federal government building projects prioritizing the procurement of “low-embodied carbon” (LEC) materials, $384 million is allocated for asphalt, $767 million for concrete, $464 million for glass, and $388 million for steel.

Similar to “Energy Systems & HVAC,” BuiltWorlds’ Building Tech Research Track spotlights High-Performance Materials as a major category, splintering into the four subcategories of wood, concrete, steel, and masonry, many of which could be classified as LEC.

As evidenced in several other sectors such as aviation, government intervention and assistance play a crucial role in decarbonization and energy transition initiatives. As the announcement notes, “asphalt, concrete, glass and steel are some of the most carbon-intensive construction materials–accounting for nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing greenhouse gas emissions, and representing 98% of the construction materials purchased and funded by the government for its infrastructure investments.” It begs the question of whether incentivizing LECs is enough action from the government, or if it is too much carrot and not enough stick to make a noticeable difference.

This May BuiltWorlds’ annual Buildings Conference in NYC on May 22-23 will discuss materials, specifically LEC materials, and advanced energy systems.

Whether or not the US government's recent involvement in the building and construction sector is enough to move the needle is to be seen, BuiltWorlds will be covering it in depth and providing a platform for all relevant stakeholders to come together and discuss with peers.