Accelerating Large-Scale Decarbonization of the Built Environment: Policy Trends

Progressive state and local governments and companies have implemented a wide array of policies to decarbonize their investments and operations.  Internal carbon pricing.  Low-carbon procurement standards. Zero codes.  POS upgrade requirements. Commercial benchmarking.  Residential disclosure.  Pioneers of these policy innovations have learned from these experiences and are moving forward with wider and deeper application.   This session will educate attendees about what is coming and how to prepare for a low-carbon future.

Session Notes by Ted Tiffany

Mark Frankel from New Buildings Institute poignantly opened this session as “the collection of the best policy ideas for change”, and it rang true throughout.  Martha Brook from the California Energy Commission laid out the case for time of use carbon accounting and highlighted the need to focus on energy use throughout the day but also the seasonal impacts of electricity use.  Martha noted that the near term solution for electrification may be through local jurisdictional adoption of “Reach Codes” for electrification saying several cities have already expressed interest in following that path. 

Vincent Martinez of Architecture 2030 placed further emphasis on early points in the day about increases efficiency not resulting in total carbon reductions and that sourcing of energy is incredibly important.  Vincent stressed the importance for both on site renewables paired with local, legally binding, non-transferable, 15 year minimum, investments in off-site renewable energy resources to reach the Architecture 2030 Zero Code.  Without these long term investments real carbon reductions could not be verifiably achieved.  

Kendra Tupper from the City of Boulder really enlightened the room with success stories from the city’s test bed for carbon reduction strategies.  These included requirements for energy reporting, ordinances for energy efficiency on rentals and VBRO’s to get licensed, 100% renewable energy for Cannabis production, and stepping up their Zero Waste policy goals to reduce carbon emissions.   This was a collection of unique policy changes that build on, but most importantly, DO NOT preempt State mandates which was a major implementation barrier for innovation. 

Finally Mark Frankel from New Buildings institute capped the session with a moving summary of the historic impact energy codes have had on the industry.  Updates to code will need to consider grid optimization, refrigerant CFC’s, methane leaks from the distribution systems, and others that are traditionally not codified.  Mark called upon the policy makers in the room to introduce a “Menu based” path to carbon zero with electrification, on-site renewables, and offsite renewable energy procurement.   

I think one of the best takeaways from this discussion came in a response from Martha Brook in the Q&A session where an attendee asked the question of “What scale of policy implementation is most important?” The answer was surprising to me and Martha noted that local jurisdictions that implement tailored reach codes allow regional and State policy makers to evaluate what works on the community scale first.  This allows for innovation while highlighting improvements and lessons learned for State level implementation.  Kendra Tupper’s response was the exact opposite saying sometimes State level policy barriers limit innovation at the City scale.  Looks like we need a little bit of both, remove the major policy barriers to spur innovation at the local level.  

Session Lead: Mark Frankel, New Buildings Institute

Mark Frankel is the Technical Director for the New Buildings Institute. NBI develops programs, policy, training, and research on high performance buildings and energy efficiency for organizations all over the country. Currently Mark is involved in national coalitions to improve building performance feedback, market adoption strategies for net zero energy and deep energy retrofits, and in the development and implementation of innovative codes and programs focused on building performance outcome and benchmarking. Mark has been consulting on energy efficiency and sustainable design for over 25 years. His work in this period has encompassed a broad range of technical topics, including lighting and daylighting, passive and high performance mechanical systems, commissioning, energy modeling, and site design, IAQ, stormwater management, water efficiency, and others.


Martha Brook has been at the California Energy Commission for almost three decades; there she has gained experience in energy demand forecasting, building energy efficiency standards, research and development of energy efficient technologies for residential and commercial buildings, and strategies to scale energy efficiency in existing buildings. Martha is currently the technical advisor to Commissioner Andrew McAllister, where she provides support on all areas of building and appliance energy efficiency. Martha is a California Professional Mechanical Engineer and she is keen to apply her knowledge and experience to advance California’s building decarbonization policies.


Kendra Tupper is a licensed Mechanical Engineer with over 15 years of experience in the corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors and is currently serving as the Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer for the City of Boulder. In that role, she oversees the city's climate, energy and zero waste policies and programs and leads a city and county wide Resilience team. Her current work includes exploring future carbon taxes and pricing mechanisms, as well as designing and piloting innovative new climate, energy, and resilience programs. Prior to joining the city, Kendra was a Principal at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), where she led projects ranging from deep energy retrofits, industrial process efficiency, efficient data center design and operation, and the development of carbon neutral plans for cities, campuses, and Fortune 500 companies. Kendra has a Master’s degree in Building Systems Engineering from the University of Colorado (Boulder) and a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Dartmouth College.

Through his over twelve-year tenure at Architecture 2030, Vincent Martinez has developed robust networks focused on private sector commitments, education and training. Vincent has strong connections to private sector leaders in urban real estate through his previous role as the 2030 Districts Network Interim Director from 2013 to 2016, helping co-found the 2030 Districts model that has now been adopted by 20 North American cities. He now sits on the 2030 Districts Network Board of Governors. Vincent also formerly managed the development and dissemination of the AIA+2030 Professional Education Series, which provided design professionals in 27 markets across North America with strategies for reaching zero net carbon buildings and has since been developed into an online education series. Vincent currently leads Architecture 2030’s work on urban zero-net-carbon buildings, including the ZERO Code, Achieving Zero framework, and Zero Cities Project with 11 leading US cities.