Commercial building cooling: design playing its part
(Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School, Retriever 69, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; (Source: Urban Innovative Actions, CartujaQanat)

Commercial building cooling: design playing its part

Optimising existing HVAC helps, but initial design choices can also regulate temperature passively. Cooling is a large part of a commercial building's energy footprint so an important consideration.

Summary: Cooling represents a large part of a commercial building's energy footprint. Optimising existing HVAC systems can help to reduce energy usage and hence costs and GHG emissions. However, initial design choices can also increase the ability of a building to passively regulate its temperature which can reduce the burden on energy consuming systems.

Why this is important: During office hours, approximately 40% of a typical office building’s energy consumption is taken up by HVAC systems maintaining the environment of the interior at an appropriate temperature for both humans and computers, servers and other equipment. When unoccupied overnight that figure becomes 70%. Understanding how design and operational choices can influence that is a key part of sustainability strategy.

The big theme: The built environment, including residential and commercial buildings, communal areas such as parks and supporting infrastructure such as energy networks and water supply, generates almost 40% of energy-related GHG emissions and it consumes 40% of global raw materials. Currently more than half the world's population lives in cities and it is predicted that by 2050, more than 2/3 of the world population will live in urban areas. So, it's not surprising that it's a target for a lot of new regulation - aimed at making our buildings more energy efficient and improving their sustainability. The good news is that there are many financially viable tools and techniques we can use to deliver on this. We need to avoid green washing, by ensuring that the environmental and societal gains (health, well-being, DEI and affordability) are real, and that we find ways of actually delivering the financial benefits we are seeking.

The details

When looking at the built environment there are broadly four phases where carbon emissions are generated:

(Credit: The Sustainable Investor)

The first two phases together are where emissions are produced that are referred to as 'embodied carbon'. This is largely from the energy that is used to extract materials, transport them, and then transform them into useful construction items - the act of creation. There are also emissions from the act of deconstruction or demolishing buildings when they are no longer useful. Embodied carbon contributes around 11% of global emissions or more than 3x that of the global aviation industry.

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