Field Study: Sustainable Building Materials 2.0
During the summer of 2022, the severe droughts and heatwaves affecting virtually all corners of the world served as a stark reminder of the effects of climate change. While climate change itself has become a norm of global proportions, here’s what is surprising:
With roughly 37 percent of CO2 emissions being attributed globally to buildings — through direct (e.g., heating) and indirect (e.g., electricity generated to power appliances) energy use — a high portion of climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) comes from the places where we live and work.
By comparison, emissions produced by the entire transportation sector (including cars, trucks, ships and planes) account to just over a quarter.
Clearly, to make a dent in the fight against climate change, huge investments need to pour into how we live and work and not only into how we move. Venture capital investments have so far not reflected this, with less than three percent of climate tech investments going into buildings according to the PwC State of Climate 2021 report.
It is against this backdrop that we analyzed the emerging technologies and innovation that will power the transition to net zero emissions buildings. We see climate as a tangible investment trend, with shareholders increasingly committing to ambitious emissions reduction targets, governments investing heavily in subsidizing clean technologies (say hi to the $369bn climate investments in the Inflation Reduction Act) and customers putting a premium on green buildings that minimize operating costs.
When you estimate the lifetime impact of a building, roughly 70 percent of its emissions come from operations (“operational carbon”) and 30 percent from the carbon released in the construction and production of building materials (“embodied carbon”). Perhaps for this reason, investments in solutions to make buildings “smarter” and reduce operational emissions (and costs) have largely outnumbered those in embodied carbon technologies so far. In addition, decarbonizing embodied carbon means tackling some of the most challenging tasks, such as producing low-CO2 cement or steel, with significant higher technology and…