Start the Carbon Reduction Journey in Your Buildings
By Nikki Mehta, director of energy and sustainability, Honeywell Building Technologies
As the world works to manage the short- and long-term effects of climate change, sustainability has evolved from a fashionable trend to a business imperative. In fact, company leaders are increasingly seeing carbon emissions as a potential force multiplier for competitive advantage as well as a means of demonstrating responsible corporate governance.
This is evidenced by the thousands of corporations worldwide – including Honeywell – that have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality.[i] In fact, one in five of the world’s largest publicly traded companies has committed to meet sustainability targets.[ii] While many of these companies have made bold promises, few have explained in detail how they will achieve their goals.
The question exists: Do companies know where to start this journey, or perhaps more importantly, do they have the means to properly measure progress?
The first answer may be more obvious than it seems: Buildings and vehicle fleets are often the largest direct contributors to Scope 1 emissions.[iii] Commercial buildings account for 37% of global energy consumption,[iv] nearly 40% of direct and indirect CO2 emissions and 62% of electricity consumed for heating, cooling, lighting and appliance operations.[v] Notably, 30% of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.[vi]
Considering this data, companies interested in reducing emissions need to make the energy efficiency and carbon impact of the buildings they own or lease a top priority. This starts with measurement.
Assess baselines and building characteristics
Whether a company has a single building or a large portfolio, the starting point for a carbon neutral strategy is establishing a baseline of current energy performance and opportunities for improvement. While heating, cooling and lighting are the primary targets, the challenge is to cut energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable environment that promotes occupant productivity and well-being. Balancing comfort against energy use can vary because utility rates, weather and occupancy pose continually moving targets.
If a building burns natural gas or fuel oil, it may have a difficult time achieving its reduction targets. Shifting to electric heating and cooling is essential to a carbon neutral strategy – even though a building with electric HVAC may indirectly generate more emissions today than a building that burns fossil fuels.[vii] This is because it may currently consume power from the grid produced by natural gas or coal. As electric grids rapidly become cleaner, all-electric HVAC will soon become the more attractive option – particularly the use of heat pumps, which are more efficient, use less energy than furnaces or air conditioners and create no on-site emissions.
Building technology can help realize carbon neutral goals
Different types of buildings need to adopt strategies that are tailored to their specific use; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for reducing carbon emissions. What is universal for every building’s journey is technology. Today’s smart building technologies can help every building reduce energy use and shrink its carbon footprint.
Building management systems (BMSs) enable building owners and managers to proactively manage comfort, system performance and energy consumption. Current BMS solutions, when coupled with advanced software that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), can reveal hidden energy waste and provide predictive control that optimizes both energy efficiency and occupant well-being.
Software using AI/ML algorithms can build sophisticated models to weigh conditions and demand in buildings against: current occupancy, weather and utility pricing; automatically recalibrate building equipment in real time; and respond to issues as they occur. A recent study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that as much as 30% of building energy consumption can be eliminated through more accurate sensing, more effective use of existing controls and deployment of advanced controls such as those integrated into modern AI-powered BMSs.[viii]
Look beyond heating, cooling and lighting to reach goals
While heating, cooling and lighting account for most of a building’s energy use, other carbon-contributing sources also factor into the equation. Using refrigerants with a lower global warming potential (GWP) in air conditioning compressors and refrigeration systems, for example, can help meet goals. The materials used in a building’s construction also matter. Today, there are low-carbon alternatives to wood, concrete and steel.
When remodeling buildings, owners should consider incorporating renewable energy sources such as solar panels on roofs, facades and parking facilities. Landscaping has shifted from merely enhancing visual appeal to conserving energy – by maximizing solar warmth in the winter and shade during the summer and avoiding use of water-guzzling lawns, shrubs and trees.
Carbon neutral is attainable, but it won’t come easily
Sustainability strategies need to start with realistic baselines of current energy performance and an unflinching look at existing infrastructure. Beyond that, it requires creative thinking, investment in ready-now technology, and a concerted, holistic effort across an organization. Reducing a building’s carbon footprint can seem like a daunting task that entails significant expenditure, yet solutions exist that can help make meaningful change and track the impact of the progress.
Achieving reduced emissions poses considerable challenges, and not every building may become truly carbon neutral. Yet the business imperative requires companies to take immediate action to reduce the carbon emissions from every building.
[i] Honeywell, How we’ll reach carbon neutral by 2035. [Accessed February 18, 2022]
[ii] Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and University of Oxford Net Zero, Taking stock: A global assessment of net zero targets, Richard Black et al., March 2021. [Accessed February 18, 2022]
[iii] EPA, EPA Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, Scope 1 and Scope 2 Inventory Guidance, September 29, 2021 [Accessed March 22, 2022]
[v] ASHRAE, Position document on energy efficiency in buildings, November 15, 2019. [Accessed February 18, 2022]
[vi] U.S. Dept. of Energy, About the Commercial Buildings Integration Program. [Accessed February 17, 2022]
[vii] Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Climate Portal: If cities require new buildings to 100% electric heat, will that raise or lower their greenhouse gas emissions? Lindsay Fendt et. al, June 7, 2021 [Accessed February 17, 2022]
[viii] Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Impacts of commercial building controls on energy savings and peak load reduction, N. Fernandez et al., May 2017. [Accessed February 17, 2022]