WEF announces action plan for zero-carbon buildings

Sheila Zabeu -

November 02, 2021

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has announced a new action plan with a set of principles to help create zero-carbon buildings and thus meet key climate commitments.

According to the organization, buildings contribute 38% of greenhouse gas emissions related to energy consumption. However, it remains unclear to real estate sector actors what it means to be “zero-carbon”, and a common framework describing the steps of a strategy to achieve such a goal is lacking.

The principles of Green Building outlined by the WEF seek precisely to define the concept of decarbonization in the real estate market and to outline the main actions according to a coherent set of principles standardized worldwide.  Counting on these resources, it will be possible to materially reduce the carbon footprint of the spaces that the companies occupy, own, or in which they invest.

In figures, the forum hopes that these principles and will help reduce construction-related emissions by 50% by 2030 and have decarbonized building portfolios by 2050 at the latest.

Broadly speaking, the Green Building Principles outline the key steps to achieving the zero-carbon goal:

1. Calculate the carbon footprint of the property. This is the calculation or estimation of the carbon emissions associated with a business which can be divided into Scope 1, 2, and 3. In summary, Scope 1 emissions are generated by the direct combustion of fuel undertaken by the business. Scope 2 emissions are indirect and come from purchased energy (e.g., electricity); and Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions that occur in the company’s value chain.

2. Set an annual target to achieve full decarbonization by 2050 and an interim date to reduce current emissions by at least half by 2030. The principles explain how to proceed in cases where spaces are leased or subleased, are in the process of being acquired, or other scenarios.

3. Measure and record embodied carbon in new developments and major refurbishments. Embedded carbon refers to the emissions produced before the building becomes operational and when it is decommissioned. They are typically generated by raw material extraction, transportation, construction, renovation, demolition, and waste management activities. These emissions are expected to account for about 50% of the entire carbon footprint of new buildings between now and 2050.

4. Maximise emissions reductions for new developments and major refurbishments underway to achieve the zero-carbon target (operational and embedded) by the defined end date.

5. To boost the optimization of energy consumption in current assets and new developments.

6. Maximise the supply of renewable energy.

7. Ensure that 100% of purchased energy comes from renewable sources, where available.

8. Encourage influential groups in your value chain to reduce emissions.

9. Purchase high-quality carbon offsets to offset residual emissions.

10. Seek to connect with interested groups to join forces and share costs and benefits arising from interventions. This journey can be visually represented in the figure below:

Source: Net zero carbon (NZC) framework – WEF

Challenges and opportunities

The challenges related to the decarbonization of buildings are great. The total floor area of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, yet only 3% of investments in new buildings will be green and efficient, generating high emissions decade after decade. The rate of renovation of existing buildings is only 1%, less than a third of the proportion needed to meet the climate targets of the Paris Agreement.

The good news is that there is technology available to reduce emissions, improve people’s quality of life and maintain economic prosperity, say WEF experts.

In addition to the decarbonization associated with electricity grids, there are other initiatives that can contribute to the idea of zero-carbon buildings. Proper electrification of building spaces and water heating; improvements to reduce energy demand; and digitalization to ensure flexibility to meet occupant needs are three major lines of action.

Energy efficiency, particularly when facilitated by the digitalization of systems, is key to enabling a dynamic reduction in consumption. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency will ensure a return of $3 overtime and save $2 in energy supply investments.

The WEF has christened these initiatives ‘The four good DEEDs‘ – Decarbonisation, Electrification, Efficiency, and Digitalisation, and hopes that this scheme will pave a comprehensive path for buildings and communities to move towards a low carbon future.

Digitise for flexibility

Digitalization, according to the World Economic Forum, aims to provide the flexibility to meet the needs of building occupants and the energy grid. And it involves the implementation of intelligent, well-managed buildings.

The goal of creating a smart building is to reduce operating expenses, improve occupant comfort, automate energy consumption management, track the status of key building assets and meet global regulations and industry sustainability standards.

A smart office building or commercial complex enables automated and centralized control of the structure’s water and electricity, lighting, heating, ventilation, security, parking spaces, waste management, lifts and emergency exits, access control to computer systems, and maintenance of gardens and equipment on an IoT network.

To be effective, smart buildings require complex monitoring of the IoT networks that control all the automation systems.

Building condition monitoring tracks building assets record resource consumption, identify unexpected damage and equipment failures, maintains optimized maintenance schedules, and alerts relevant authorities of problems in and around a building.


While zero carbon buildings and communities may seem complex and rare, they are fast becoming popular with the support of global organizations such as Architecture 2030, Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, and the World Green Building Council. A number of cities, companies, and housing organizations have already committed to having 100% zero carbon in their portfolio by 2030.