The Road To Net Zero Carbon

By Victoria Coleman, 
USGBC-Missouri Gateway Intern

From reaching its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals two years early to the recently approved Solar Readiness and Building Energy Performance Standard ordinances, St. Louis is leading the Midwest in efforts to be carbon neutral 2050. 2050 has significance because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report states that global powers must work to reduce carbon emissions so that by 2050 the earth does not warm over 1.5 degrees Celsius — a disastrous level.

Net zero carbon, or carbon neutrality, means that the amount of carbon emissions humans produce — be it by idling in traffic or operating buildings — needs to be significantly reduced and offset to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Recently, two major companies every St. Louisan is familiar with — Spire and Ameren — have announced commitments to carbon neutral operations by 2050. 

Spire came with its announcement in summer 2020, making it one of the first natural gas utilities in the U.S. to do so. Its declaration came with their intent to fix leaks along its extensive pipeline network that spans multiple states. Spire aims to reduce its methane emissions by 53%, compared to emissions from 2005. 

Undoubtedly, acknowledging the problem — the climate crisis — and making a declaration to take action to solve that problem are the first steps in the right direction. Particularly for Spire, a natural gas company, this puts them one step closer to achieving carbon neutrality for a gas utility company — when “carbon emissions released from the use of the gas sold to customers is offset by sustainable carbon sequestration,” per Deloitte’s 2017 report. 

In September, Ameren Missouri announced their multi-phase plan to commit and transition to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Ameren, backed by stakeholders from various fields, released its detailed “Committed to Clean” Integrated Resource Plan. Ameren’s plan outlines grid modernization and clean renewable energy — including wind and solar benchmarks for 2030 and 2040 — to ensure “continued reliability . . . at the least cost of any of the alternative pathways assessed” for consumers.

It is so important to have major gas and electric utilities realizing their environmental impact and taking steps to reduce that impact. These major players in St. Louis, along with the City of St. Louis, are paving the way for more companies, organizations, and cities to take environmental stewardship seriously. The World Green Building Council defines a net zero carbon building as one that “is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.” In the City of St. Louis, existing buildings account for almost 80% of GHG emissions. What if all new buildings are designed, built, and operated as net zero buildings? Can we challenge the region to make this happen by 2030? Or even by 2025? This is not too far into the future, but it is what we need to address the growing climate crisis. 

Challenge yourself to imagine possibilities of creating a scalable and methodical approach to solving the climate change crisis one step at a time with the upcoming “Achieve Net Zero Cost Effectively” workshop hosted by USGBC-MGC in December (exact date TBA). Learn more or register here or at www.usgbc-mogateway.org.