Besides the traffic and the weather, we Seattleites love to talk about all the construction going on in our city. The downtown skyline is full of cranes, and it seems like the building never stops. By the end of the year, 39 new projects will have been completed in downtown Seattle alone, and there are plans for more than 100 others to be finished in the next two years.
Seattle is hardly alone. As the global population rises, urban areas around the world are booming, and that means more and more buildings are going up. By one estimate, the world will add 2 trillion square feet of buildings by 2060—the equivalent of putting up another New York City every month for the next 40 years.
There’s good and bad news in that statistic. The good news is that living in the city generally equates to a higher quality of life—you have access to better schools, health care, and job opportunities. The bad news is that the buildings themselves are a big contributor to climate change, and one of the five areas where we need to drive a lot of innovation if we’re going to avoid a climate disaster.
There are two ways in which buildings are responsible for greenhouse gases. The first is the construction phase: Buildings are made of concrete and steel, both of which produce a lot of emissions when they’re being made. In fact, these two materials account for around 10 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gases. And right now, we don’t have practical ways to make either one without releasing carbon dioxide.