logoShaping Tomorrow's Built Environment Today

What Is Building Decarbonization?

ASHRAE Task Force for Building Decarbonization

Share This

Building Decarbonization: 
Introduction |  ASHRAE Recommendations |  ASHRAE Commitments

Global Building Sector Energy-related CO2 Emissions 2021

Buildings are a significant source of GHG emissions.

The buildings we live and work in are responsible for roughly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions.

The global building stock is expected to double by 2060 due to urbanization, population growth, and related economic trends.

Based on data from IEA, Global energy and process emissions from buildings, including embodied emissions from new construction. 2021. IEA. Paris. https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/global-energy-and-process-emissions-from-buildings-including-embodied-emissions-from-new-construction-2021, IEA. License: CC BY 4.0

Building decarbonization describes methods that reduce human made GHG emissions related to buildings.

  • Building decarbonization encompasses a building’s life cycle, including building design, construction, operation, occupancy, and end of life. 
  • Building construction, energy use, methane, and refrigerants are the primary sources of GHG emissions. 
  • Building life-cycle assessment involves consideration of operational and embodied emissions.
  • Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is the standard metric to quantify GHGs.

    Building Whole Life Cycle emissions include

    Operational carbon is the amount of carbon emitted during the operation of a building.  This includes both energy and water-related emissions during the use of the building. 

    Embodied carbon is the amount of carbon emitted from the extraction of raw materials for the building to the building’s end of life, including refrigerant emissions.  It is everything in the life of the building that is not covered by operational carbon.

          Image courtesy of P2S Inc.; figure based on EN 15978:2011.                                  

      The primary means for reducing building GHG emissions are the following: 

      • Efficiency measures and building electrification
      • Operations and maintenance
      • Refrigerants: Low-GWP, minimizing volume, and improving management
      • Renewable energy sources (on and off site) and energy storage
      • Building-grid integration and real-time carbon signals
      • Embodied carbon
      • Decarbonized electrical grid

        New decarbonization policies are continuously developing.

          ASHRAE Recommendations

          To support global building decarbonization, ASHRAE recommends that governmental and nongovernmental institutions focus on the following areas.

          Research, Standards, and Guidelines Development

          • Promote research and development programs that investigate and adopt building decarbonization strategies that lower GHG emissions and increase grid flexibility without compromising indoor environmental quality and safety.
          • Promote research and development of heat pump technology.
          • Support the development, update, and adoption of relevant standards and guidelines that facilitate the whole-life-cycle reduction of GHG emissions from new and existing buildings.
          • Encourage standardization of measurement and labeling of embodied carbon in building materials, systems, and equipment.

          Improved Design and Equipment Applications

          • Balance safety, energy efficiency, cost, and environmental impacts to achieve building decarbonization. Advance the design, development, and application of HVAC&R equipment and systems that minimize GHG emissions during the life of the equipment.
          • Encourage greater collaboration and the development of standards and guidelines among the energy, transportation, and building sectors to improve secure building-grid integration, data communication, and optimization of energy performance (generation, use, and storage).
          • Develop tools, equipment, methodologies, and practices to minimize or prevent GHG emissions during installation, operation, maintenance, retrofit, and decommissioning of buildings and their systems.
          • Develop the data and methods needed for calculating practical, repeatable, and verifiable procedures for estimating embodied carbon in HVAC&R equipment and mechanical systems.

          Workforce Development

          • Work in partnership with industry to increase the capacity and opportunities for a skilled workforce supporting building decarbonization.
          • Support funding for building decarbonization training and curriculum development.

          | Return to Top

            ASHRAE Commitments

            Education and Training

            • Develop technical guidance, standards, training, certification and other tools to support building decarbonization policy goals.
            • Support research that develops and advances technologies and practices to minimize building GHG emissions.
            • Develop policies and recommendations based on global science related to the building sector’s environmental impact.


            • Strengthen the decarbonization components of ASHRAE standards every three to five years, consistent with achieving a fully decarbonized built environment by 2050.
            • Provide resources to support building performance standards (BPS) development, implementation, and compliance.
            • Develop and revise guidelines and standards to reduce building GHG emissions while maintaining or improving building indoor environmental quality, sustainability, and resilience.

            Research and Technology

            • Support research that develops and advances technologies and practices to minimize building GHG emissions.
            • Promote whole-building life-cycle assessment (WBLCA).
            • Advance HVAC&R technologies and practices that minimize refrigerants’ environmental impact while enhancing performance, cost-effectiveness, and safety.


            • Develop policies and recommendations based on global science related to the building sector’s environmental impact.
            • Take a leadership role in determining and harmonizing one set of aligned definitions and terminology for all building-related carbon terms.
            • Collaborate with other organizations to promote and advance global building decarbonization.
            • Mobilize ASHRAE grassroots members worldwide to encourage sound, balanced, and innovative carbon reduction strategies and become involved with policy-setting entities.

            | Return to Top