Courtesy Danist Soh

Design Optimism Talks: Accelerating the Path to Zero

During the April session of Design Optimism Talks, cofounder of the Global Network for Zero Mahesh Ramanujam discussed empowering people and organizations to overcome the barriers that are keeping net zero out of reach.

Recently, Mahesh Ramanujam, cofounder, president and CEO of the Global Network for Zero, joined METROPOLIS editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal for the latest in the METROPOLIS’s Design Optimism discussions.

Apropos of the series theme, Ramanujam stated bluntly: “Optimism is elusive these days. It seems that we take one step forward and two steps back. If 2023 was about the convergence of progressions in the public and private sectors and the merging of resources needed to implement net zero, then 2024 must be about accelerating the path to zero by overcoming market barriers that have kept the future beyond our reach.”

As a long-time global thinker and advocate of sustainable design—he was formerly president of the U.S. Green Building Council—Ramanujam lamented that the effort is largely unknown outside of the design professions: “Most people have heard of green buildings, but only in an abstract way. The average person doesn’t know that 40 percent of the world’s emissions come from the built environment. That’s why when we created the global network, we had to be laser focused on one metric: carbon emissions.”

Mahesh Ramanujam, cofounder, president and CEO of the Global Network for Zero

Rajagopal brought up the subject of embodied carbon and its “interesting dimension of time. The materials for buildings that are going to be constructed next year and in the next three years are being produced in factories today. Those emissions are going into the air right now.”

Ramanujam agreed, adding: “Product manufacturers have already made net zero commitments, and when they look deep into their supply chains they are going to be looking at how to reduce emissions, which eventually reduces the embodied carbon that can come onto a construction site. I still believe that the opportunity is on the side of the manufacturer.”

Speaking of embodied carbon, the sustainability leader put in a plug for building reuse: “If you were going to demolish an existing building and replace it with a new LEED Platinum one, it would take 80 years to reverse the environmental damage. Focus on existing buildings.”

Asked what he considered a sustainable building ideal, Ramanujam averred: “A net zero product made in a net zero factory going into a net zero building.” However, he kept circling back to the idea of optimism: “Globally, we must embrace a form of optimism wherein we acknowledge we have different backgrounds, circumstances, and resources. Our current state of cooperation is good, but not good enough.”

Listen to the April session of Design Optimism Talks here. This session was presented by Garden on the Wall.

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