October 23, 2019 Kasey Hegelein

8 Takeaways from the Net Zero Conference & Expo

The revolving digital signage on the LACC exterior of the conference during the Net Zero Conference. (Photo by Ling Luo)

At our 6th annual Net Zero Conference, hosted on October 2-4, 2019, we welcomed 100 exhibitors, 108 speakers, and 1,200 attendees from 8 countries and 38 states to the Los Angeles Convention Center. Keynotes from Ed Mazria (Founder & CEO, Architecture2030), Amanda Sturgeon (CEO, International Living Future Institute), and Terry Tamminen (Founder & President, Seventh Generation Advisors) provided powerful insights into green building, net zero design, and sustainability policy. Here’s what our team hopes attendees took away from the event:

1. Morning Keynote Ed Mazria spoke about California’s huge role in setting net zero trends. He mentioned that leaders from other countries often say to him, “Once California does it, we’ll do it.” Our state leads the way in sustainability and, to take advantage of our unique position, California should adopt a new ZERO code. “What happens in California goes global,” Mazria said.

2. “Awareness without action is vanity,” said Amanda Sturgeon when she spoke on the importance of taking initiative when it comes to climate change. Her keynote stressed that a new, actions-based approach is essential, and that it is crucial that women of color have a voice in the sustainability movement. We need to move quickly and together to solve climate change.

3. LA’s Green New Deal aims to create a net zero future by going carbon-free and electric. The city committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement, and will do so by encouraging and requiring buildings that support health, clean-energy transit, and a sustainable food system. Los Angeles is leading the way in sustainability, with policies such as a transition to a fossil fuel-free grid in 25 years, installing full-bus rapid transit infrastructure, and providing 80% locally-sourced water by 2045. Local experts and city officials introduced initiatives to achieve zero carbon buildings and transportation, as well as zero waste and zero-wasted water. Electric scooters, solar panels, vertical gardens, and water management hardware are making these goals a reality.

4. Both operational carbon and embodied carbon matter when reducing emissions. Net zero buildings often focus on the operational side, but that’s only half the story. In the next decade, experts project that 72% of building emissions will come from embodied carbon. By transforming our building materials and construction industry, decarbonizing our grid, advancing electrification, and designing for flexibility, we  can move toward true zero carbon emissions.

5. Construction impacts communities in ways we don’t consider. Synthetic chemicals are released into the environment and workers and first-responders are often exposed,  threatening their health and wellness. The production of building materials is one of the primary sources of carbon emissions, and construction and demolition waste is one of the largest waste streams in many cities and states. The construction process must be redesigned to engage in more sustainable practices, to utilize healthier materials, and to better consider the health of those onsite.

6. Many speakers discussed the importance of collaboration and partnership in leadership. Leading should be a group effort, because sharing ideas generates better performance. From case-study panels to building tours, NZ19 speakers repeatedly stressed the importance of integrated design — having the full team dedicated to sustainability from a project’s offset. 

7. Many net zero projects have been completed here in Los Angeles. A tour of the City of Santa Monica City Services Building demonstrated mechanically-operated glazing vents and gray water treatment. The Perlita Passive House tour provided an opportunity for attendees to step inside a net-positive building that’s the third project worldwide to achieve both Passive House and ILFI Petal certifications. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is designed to adapt to its surrounding environment, with features such as water re-use and an active shading system. A tour of the IBEW-NECA’s Electrical Training Institute demonstrated the operation and use of net-zero buildings several years in. NZ19 Full Conference Pass Holders were also shown the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator building’s LEED Platinum and WELL Gold features, as well as LA’s first microgrid.

8. There’s a powerful intersection between homelessness and sustainability. At the Robin Hood Gala, we welcomed NZ19 Full Conference Pass Holders to raise awareness around homelessness in Los Angeles and the work that the Skid Row Housing Trust and other local leaders are doing to help mitigate it. The thoughtful planning and design of buildings decreases the number of homeless people in a city and improves health and wellness, as is evidenced by the Skid Row Housing Trust’s work to build beautifully-designed permanent supportive housing in Los Angeles. The Gala was hosted on October 3, 2019 at the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles.

Thank you to all who joined us for your help in making NZ19 our biggest and best Net Zero Conference yet. We’ll see you next year at the Los Angeles Convention Center for NZ20!