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Question: What initiatives, policies and technologies can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings sector?
Submit Proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the Contest rules and Terms of Use
Deadline: Sunday, Sep 10, 2017 at 18:00:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


Residential and commercial buildings hold the potential to reduce approximately 29% of the projected baseline emissions by 2020, which is the highest cost-effective reduction achievable by a single sector (IPCC AR4).

Measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings broadly fall under three categories:

  1. Reducing energy consumption and embodied energy in buildings,
  2. Using lower-carbon fuel sources such as a higher proportion of renewable energy, or
  3. Preventing the emissions of non-CO2 GHG gases (IPCC AR4).

Reducing energy consumption and embodied energy of new and existing buildings is the most cost-effective and arguably the largest opportunity for reducing emissions (IPCC AR4).

Buildings: The Problem and Opportunity

Building construction, building heat, light, and other end uses are responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Left to business-as-usual, building-related emissions are expected to at least double worldwide by 2050.

This contest invites you to develop new strategies for mitigating building-related emissions in new or existing buildings, either directly though energy efficiency or through less carbon-intensive construction or building energy substitution strategies.

Changes in building technologies, enabled by market strategies, are needed to stabilize and then reduce building sector emissions; it should be possible to do so as efficiency improvements typically have no net cost after subtracting the multi-year value of energy saved. However, getting those who own or manage over a billion individual homes and buildings to choose to act, under the variety of economic and political circumstances around the world is a challenging objective, even if profitable for the building owners and tenants.

Buildings: Request for Proposals

All proposals to accomplish effective climate mitigation in the built environment are welcome, including but not limited to:

Buildings: Considerations as Guidance

When writing proposals, authors should consider the following considerations as guidance:

Key Issues

The building sector presents some unique challenges such as the diffuse nature of the building stock, inertia in adoption of new technologies and design standards, as well as availability of benchmarking data for validating efficiency improvements. A comprehensive summary of actions that have been proposed to increase building efficiency, along with estimates of the amount these measures could reduce future emissions, can be found in IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 9: Buildings.

In the past few years, there has been a rapid proliferation of digital technologies in the built environment, coupled with the availability of large amounts of energy and other performance related data. These developments open the door for new and innovative solutions to take root, and hold significant promise for rapidly scaling-up energy efficiency efforts to achieve deep, cost-effective GHG mitigation.

There is already a sizable potential for greenhouse gas mitigation in the buildings sector that is not being realized because of significant technological, economic, cultural, political, and behavioral barriers. Section 9.8 of IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 9: Buildings presents the taxonomy of barriers that hinder the penetration of energy efficient technologies/practices in the buildings sector. These can be broadly categorized as:

1. Financial costs/benefits: Higher up-front costs for more efficient equipment; Lack of access to financing; Energy subsidies; Lack of internalization of environmental, health and other external costs);

2. Hidden costs/benefits: Costs and risks due to potential incompatibilities, performance risks, transaction costs, etc.; Poor power quality, particularly in some developing countries;

3. Market failures: Limitations of the typical architectural design process; Fragmented market structure; Landlord/tenant split and misplaced incentives; Administrative and regulatory barriers (e.g., in the incorporation of distributed generation technologies); Imperfect information;

4. Behavioral and organizational realities: Tendency to ignore small opportunities for energy conservation; Organizational failures (e.g., internal split incentives); Non-payment and electricity theft; Tradition, behavior, lack of awareness and lifestyle; Corruption.

Another question for proposals to consider is: What innovative energy efficiency technologies, construction systems or policy solutions can help overcome these barriers?

National standards and Certifications

In 2010, the European Union passed an Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which set standards for certifying buildings and established quality assurance procedures in order to further increase the push for EU buildings energy efficiency following the EPBD. In November 2016 the European Commission proposed updates to this directive, to enhance the use of smart technology in buildings. In 2012, an Energy Efficiency Directive was also passed in the European Union. Under this Director, EU countries set forth efficiency plans every 3 years.

In 2002, Germany issued the Energy Saving Ordinance (Energieeinsparverordnung  or EnEv). It replaced the Thermal insulation Ordinance (1995) and the Heating Systems Ordinance (1998) and was replaced in 2009. The EnEv sets energy performance requirements to the primary energy demand of new buildings and existing buildings in case of major renovation. New buildings must not exceed the annual primary energy requirement of a corresponding reference building and must be realized in such a way that the cladding and the systems engineering comply with prescribed minimum standards. In certain cases there are requirements to retrofit. Where changes are made to existing buildings the affected component must meet minimum energy requirements. 

In 2012, Australia followed suit and released for review a draft National Building Energy Standard-Setting, Assessment and Ratings. In the United States, the Department of Energy (DOE) oversees energy code adoption through the Building Energy Codes Program (

During the 1980s and 1990s, the International Code Council® (ICC) and its predecessor code development organizations developed the Model Energy Code (MEC), later renamed the International Energy Conservation Code® (IECC). Today, most states in the US use a version of the IECC for their residential buildings, requiring a minimum level of energy efficiency in new residential construction.

The IECC commercial building provisions include prescriptive and performance requirements that largely coincide with ASHRAE 90.1 requirements. DOE’s most recent analysis of commercial codes found the IECC 2015 and ASHRAE 90.1-2013 to be similar in terms of stringency (PNNL 2015).

The 2015 IECC achieves about 1% greater site energy savings than the 2012 IECC (DOE 2015b). States are required to file commercial code certification statements with DOE by September 2016 and residential certification statements by June 2017. However, passing stringent building energy efficiency standards is a time consuming and difficult process.

The key questions here are:


Creating an efficiency brand

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal are perceived by many consumers as pushing forward new technological horizons and representing the wave of the future. Efficiency, by contrast, is seen by many as a throwback that involves old technologies, since a key activity is retrofitting existing structures.

Given this reality, a central issue is: Can the brand image of energy efficiency be upgraded to increase awareness and create a more favorable public perception?

Judging Criteria

Judges will be asked to evaluate proposals on the following criteria:

Winning proposals will be especially strong in at least one of the first three dimensions, and also well presented.

Judges will evaluate proposals, and deliberate as a group to select the Semi-Finalists, Finalists, Winners, and possibly other awardee(s) at their discretion.  Judgments of desirability are also made in the final stage of the contest, by the Climate CoLab community through popular vote, and by the Judges through their selection of the Judges' Choice winner(s).


Top proposals in each contest will be awarded...

Judges’ Choice Award -- Two proposals* will be selected by the Judges to receive the Judges' Choice-- one project, and one practice.

Popular Choice Award – Received the most votes during the public voting period.

The Judges’ Choice Award and Popular Choice Award Winners will be invited to MIT (see prior Climate CoLab Conferences), join the Climate CoLab winners’ alumni, and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize—to be selected from among the winners across contests.

All award Winners and Finalists will receive wide recognition and platform visibility from MIT Climate CoLab. Climate CoLab or its collaborators may offer additional awards or recognition at their discretion.

* Judges’ Choice Award(s) are allocated at the Judging panel’s discretion. In rare cases, the Judges may choose not to select awardees.

Resources for Proposal Authors

You may wish to read the references listed below in developing your proposal.

If you prepare a proposal with a specific geographic focus, you may wish to consult the IPCC's estimates of the mitigation potential of building efficiency initiatives in various countries and regions in Table 9.6 of IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 9: Buildings.