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The most valuable guides to building decarbonization in 2024

For the new year, here’s a selection of the best free resources available on how to decarbonize buildings.

Guides to sustainable buildings 2024

The last year has seen unprecedented government funds, private sector engagement and public awareness around the sustainable building movement. Source: Shutterstock/3rdtimeluckystudio

The last year has seen unprecedented government funds, private sector engagement and public awareness around the sustainable building movement. On Dec. 5, at COP28 in Dubai, 28 countries representing a third of the global population launched a new initiative called the Buildings Breakthrough that "aims to strengthen international collaboration to decarbonize the building sector and make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in all regions by 2030."

Ambitious programs such as this provide the opportunity to convert all of our progress to date into a building industry-wide coordinated effort on decarbonization. Sharing resources, best practices and lessons learned will allow us to align and accelerate our shared aspirations for sustainable outcomes in the new year. 

To that end I’ve compiled some of the best guides on building decarbonization. This list was crowdsourced on LinkedIn in addition to my own research. This collection is not a best-of; it’s a concise list of what I found to be the most valuable. Ultimately each company’s sustainable building journey is unique and these guides are intended as a primer to help you get started. 

A 101 guide for commercial building owners and managers

CBRE’s Decarbonizing Commercial Real Estate

CBRE hits a balance between being concise and comprehensive in this guide. It’s like an eloquent consultant giving you a free crash course on holistic building decarbonization. It’s focused on "making your carbon-reduction strategy a reality," with practical advice on useful steps, where to start and learning more. My only caution is that I wouldn’t take the framing around phases to imply a rigid sequence; we need to take on as many phases simultaneously as possible. 

A 201 roadmap for sustainable building policy makers

Building Decarbonization Roadmap: Produced for the US Climate Alliance

Policies are sticky; once they are in place they tend to stay in place. But the policies needed to achieve sustainable building outcomes shift continually, and new policy tools are being implemented to drive the changes needed today. A great example is building performance standards, such as NYC’s Local Law 97, which are rapidly being adopted across the U.S. This report does a great job of covering all the relevant legislation at play in the sustainable building space. While it’s intended for a policy audience, this is also a valuable skim for a corporate audience. 

A 301 guide for building professionals  

The Building Decarbonization Practice Guide 

Released by the William J. Worthen Foundation in August, this guide already has almost 5,000 downloads. Divided into seven volumes for specific building types and decarbonization issues, it’s one of the most comprehensive and in-depth guides I have seen in my 15-year career as a sustainable building consultant. Jointly funded by big players including Google and Microsoft, it’s likely to be the go-to resource for building professionals working on sustainability in 2024. 

Don’t reinvent your own building decarbonization wheel

To supplement the three resources above, below is a longer list of additional guides, toolkits, roadmaps and reports on this topic. Many are specific to a building typology, or region which makes them even more valuable to those working in that space. 

The ULI Blueprint for Green Real Estate: The Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance includes a who’s who of the global real estate industry working on improving the environmental performance of buildings. This guide compiles the invaluable wisdom of their membership, staff and industry experts. 

Framework for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Planning: Building PortfoliosCreated by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Better Climate Challenge Team, this is a great guide on portfolio level decarbonization. 

Decarbonization Roadmap Guide For School Building Decision Makers: This roadmap for school decarbonization offers templates, resources, visualization and easy-to-follow steps. Created by the New Building Institute (NBI), which offers a rich larger suite of excellent content. 

Guide: Best Practices for Achieving Zero Over Time for Building Portfolios: This guide is a specific approach to existing building decarbonization that "sets commercial building portfolios on a financially viable path to achieve net zero energy." Created by RMI, it is one of a full collection of RMI’s excellent resources.

Decarbonization Roadmap for Multifamily Affordable Housing: This is a best practices manual on decarbonizing New York City's multifamily affordable housing stock. Created by the Building Energy Exchange, this is what a local guide on a specific type of building should look like. 

Challenges and Opportunities for Home Decarbonization: This report focuses on the unique challenge of decarbonizing housing. Created by Berkeley Labs, it unlocks the housing industry’s needs to accelerate decarbonization. 

AIA-CLF Embodied Carbon Toolkit for Architects: Tackling the carbon emitted during the manufacturing of building materials is central to building industry conversations right now. This toolkit by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is specifically for architects working on this issue. Check out the Carbon Leadership Forum’s (CLF) website for a whole lot more on this subject. 

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