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What Does Sustainability Really Mean?

Climate change has spawned a number of new buzzwords in our industry. These terms are often used interchangeably as marketing buzzwords. Let's explore some of the most common terms to uncover what they really mean and how they relate to each other and our industry. 
Sustainable Buildings 
Sustainability can be defined as fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations, while ensuring a balance between economic growth, environmental care, and social well-being.
In the Smart Buildings Industry, we can use technology to create sustainable buildings while also avoiding  the  depletion  of natural resources in order to maintain an  ecological  balance. What is a sustainable building? Sustainable buildings are buildings designed, constructed, and operated in an environmentally responsible manner.  Sustainable buildings can also contribute to a sustainable environment by conserving energy, thus reducing the carbon footprint.
Net Zero Buildings
You can't talk about sustainability without touching on the topic of net zero, which can come into play for both energy and carbon. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, a net zero energy building produces enough (renewable) energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements.  Ideally the net zero building will be designed and operated to minimize energy consumption in general, thus also minimizing the amount of renewables needed to reach net zero.   
Carbon Neutral Buildings
While a net zero building maintains a sustainable balance of energy, a carbon neutral building goes a step further and takes into account the embodied carbon in the materials and energy that went into creating it. A carbon neutral building is one where the design, construction, and operations minimize carbon (greenhouse gases). In order to become carbon neutral, carbon offsets (like reforestation and direct air capture) are used to become carbon neutral
Green Building
 So far we have sustainable buildings, net zero buildings, and carbon neutral buildings - all with their own nuances and definitions. Let's throw one more onto the pile of terminology: Green Building. " Green Building" focuses on the relationship between the built environment and the natural environment. Key considerations in Green Building include energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section, and the building's effects on its site. Building owners use Green Building practices such as the LEED certification framework in the planning, design, construction, and operations of a building. 
Sustainability definitions

As you can see, there is some overlap between these terms. However, there are also some key differences. Sustainable buildings are the broadest category, and they can include net zero buildings, carbon neutral buildings, and green buildings. Net zero buildings and carbon neutral buildings are more specific. Net zero buildings are focused on offsetting energy usage with energy production and carbon neutral buildings focus on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Green buildings are also specific, but they focus on a wider range of environmental impacts, including energy use, water use, and indoor air quality.

Learn more about how building automation can contribute to a more sustainable building here. For more examples on how to increase the sustainability of your building using FIN Framework, read our blog here.

B. Scott Muench

Scott joined J2 Innovations as a partner in 2011, and is now Vice President of Customer Experience. He has a wide range of responsibilities including evangelism, business development, training, and operational excellence. Scott is well known as an industry expert in smarthomes and smart buildings. He is a past president of ASHRAE, and is currently a board member for Project Haystack. Scott attended Clarkson University for Mechanical Engineering and graduated with a BS/Business in Organizational Innovation.

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Topics from this blog: Smart Buildings Energy management sustainability

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