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Cities consume more than two-thirds of global energy, and account for at least 70% of carbon emissions, writes CityLab contributor Liz Enochs.

To combat some of the effects of climate change, we need to design cities to use less energy. Enochs writes:

Can cities revamp their neighborhoods so they cancel out more carbon than they emit? Some designers and advocates are pushing for what they call climate-positive city design, which aims to go beyond zero emissions.

“We know that reducing emissions alone won’t get us there,” said Pamela Conrad, a landscape architect with San Francisco’s CMG Partners who focuses on carbon drawdown strategies. After she developed a carbon calculator to measure a project’s climate impact, Conrad said it became clearer how much landscape design could do to offset and reduce emissions. For example, trees, soil and other materials store (or sequester) carbon, and can offset a significant amount of what building materials emit during their life cycle.

Using alternative cement, smart glass, and other materials that curb energy consumption and emissions can also lessen a development’s carbon load, as can looking beyond the site level to consider users’ transportation patterns. The three variables that cities need to account for, according to Conrad: sources of emissions, such as the carbon used to produce the project’s materials; sinks, such as trees and wetlands, where carbon is stored; and costs, like carbon emitted during project maintenance.

Designing beyond net-zero impact is certainly possible. The International Living Future Institute can point to more than 60 building projects that generate more energy than they use. Ranging from an education center in Austin, Texas, to a farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the projects have met the “Energy Petal” threshold within its Living Building certification. This indicates that each generated at least 105 percent of its energy needs in its first 12 months of operations. A handful of buildings generated 200 percent of their energy or more.

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