Carbon-neutral Design: What Is Possible and How Can It Be Executed?

In the last few decades, there has been a continual shift in building design towards greener materials and methods. Whether buildings be LEED, Living Building Challenge, Salmon-Safe, Energy Star, or WELL certified, each has a positive impact. Design also has the power to inspire joy, uplift lives, and strengthen the spirit of the community. What specifically can be accomplished when architects put an emphasis on designing carbon-neutral buildings?

Carbon-neutral buildings use passive and highly efficient active systems for heating, cooling and ventilation. The materials are planned to reduce the ‘embodied carbon’ attributable to the construction of the facility. Once delivered, the building’s energy must come from renewable sources such as photovoltaics or wind. All these aspects support the goal of net-zero carbon in the built environment.

One tool that aids in calculating the carbon-neutral threshold is the Building Transparency Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator tool (EC3), which helps projects measure their carbon footprint reductions, benchmark progress, and focus on the upfront supply chain emissions of construction materials. Perkins&Will is helping to develop a 2.0 version of the EC3 tool that will be used at Western Washington University to assess the impacts of the new Kaiser Borsari Hall computer science and electrical engineering facility.

This new facility is a breakthrough building for the campus, as it is the first net-zero building on a university campus in Washington state. In partnership with Perkins&Will and sustainable design expert Jason F. McLennan, the new building will include advance battery technology to provide on-site energy storage and smart building technologies and controls.

The carbon-neutral design elements of the new facility are responsive to their place at Western Washington University. The $51 million Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building is a 53,000 square-foot (4923.8 sq m) next generation STEM facility for teaching and research. The four-story facility is nestled along the arboretum with a new courtyard and pedestrian connection to existing STEM programs. Planned in the concept of the porous campus, the new STEM facility encourages active collaboration with the industry. For example, the rooftop solar panels will serve as a teaching opportunity for the electrical engineering students to see first-hand what they are learning about, including real-time performance metrics.