Decarbonization is Not as Difficult as it Sounds

Decarbonization may seem intimidating, but the concept behind it is clear.   May 24, 2023

By Dave Lubach, Executive Editor

While attending the Getting to Zero Forum on net-zero buildings recently, one of the speakers posed an interesting question to the crowd of about 500 in attendance. 

“What if we replaced the word ‘decarbonization’ with ‘upgrades?’” the speaker asked. 

The question raised more than a few eyebrows in a room well-versed in the meaning of decarbonization, but the speaker posed a good point. When we’re talking about decarbonization, are people intimidated by the word and its meaning? 

"Real words to real people,” was the way the speaker tried to explain her case, and it makes a lot of sense. As municipalities and institutional and commercial facilities work to become net-zero operations, to the untrained ear, decarbonization can seem like a made-up word, some industry concept that seems impossible to grasp and unlikely to be achieved. 

Many of the facility managers I know are not only real people, but also smart people. They understand the decarbonization concept and what it means to the future of buildings and the environment. 

But when you’re selling the benefits of spending millions of dollars on a new chiller system or endorsing the installation of a new roof in the name of energy efficiency, do the building owners or C-suite decision makers responsible for spending that money know exactly what the term means? 

Maybe it’s better to explain it in terms of an “upgrade,” touting the new technology that will not only save money in energy operations, but also make their buildings more climate friendly. 

The message at the Getting to Zero Forum was encouraging, and attendees left feeling positive about the future of buildings and ready to do their part to help fight climate change. But one presenter’s message showed how far we still must go to upgrade buildings, which account for 40 percent of the energy consumption in the U.S. 

During a presentation on existing buildings, a speaker said at the current rate, it will take 60 years to retrofit all existing buildings to achieve decarbonization goals. With many institutions and municipalities establishing goals of achieving net-zero status by 2050 or even 2030, the timelines don’t match up. 

Still, there is much good being done, and it should be celebrated, as we learn every month in our magazines and on our website about the energy-saving projects managers are taking on at their institutional and commercial facilities. 

As another presenter also said, “let’s not let perfect get in the way of good.” 

Dave Lubach is the executive editor of the facility market.  


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