California Architect Promotes Zero-Energy, Zero-Carbon Buildings

Hafsa Burt, architect and green-energy enthusiast, is pretty excited these days concerning her industry’s direction. Much of this excitement stems from governmental attention to the climate crisis. With almost 40 million people, California—the most populous state in the nation—is especially vigilant in its efforts to construct the latest zero-energy, zero-carbon buildings and communities.

Burt, an accomplished female architect, has a passion for establishing cleaner communities. This passion has helped her amass an astounding amount of information on the need for zero-energy, zero-carbon buildings. According to Burt, California is actively navigating a transition from fossil fuel dependence to clean energy. Over 50 cities and counties across the state are considering policies to support all-electric new construction, and 42 cities have actively adopted building codes (REACH) to reduce their reliance on gas. Additionally, efforts led by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and others will entice more communities to join this year.

“Local advocacy groups in California are also pushing for the Zero Code, which is a building energy standard that provides energy efficiency measures, and on-or-off-site reliance on renewable energy only for zero-carbon buildings. AIA National is advocating for Zero Code to be mandated for all new Federal Buildings,” adds Burt.

Nationally, efforts to decarbonize the electricity sector are also in the works. In 2019, House Resolution 6 created the bipartisan Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This committee was formed to develop recommendations on policies and strategies for achieving substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis. As a result, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global net carbon dioxide emissions must fall by 45-percent from international 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

Achieving clean energy goals also means a new way of thinking about the energy that sustains our world. Burt adds that the new administration has already rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and is further committed to delivering clean energy to low-income communities and communities of color. There is an urgency for focus on climate action and racial equity. The current administration has asked agencies to review the Environmental Policy Act, roll back on incandescent light bulbs and reinforce transparency of science in regulatory rule making.

These ambitious goals aim to decarbonize the electricity sector by no later than 2050. Burt adds, “A national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030 is also in the works, as well as a plan to grow America’s natural-carbon sinks by conserving 30-percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”

All of this positive change has Burt feeling her industry will be a crucial player in making things happen, and she is ready to do her part. My underlying inspiration has always been to leave a meaningful mark in the industry and create sustainable projects, with a watchful eye at larger problems that our planet is facing. Some 11 years ago, I was doing seminars on healthy buildings, Indoor Air Quality, and airborne transmission using Legionnaires disease incidents as examples, and it all became too real with the current pandemic. Just the same, we need to work toward reducing our carbon footprint and focus on regenerative technologies, so climate emergencies don’t catch us off-guard,” says Burt.

A cleaner world and a smaller carbon footprint is not a new passion for Burt. She says these goals have been a concern for a long time. “In college, as part of my undergraduate thesis, I designed a self-sufficient compact city within a city, addressing resource preservation, sustainability, and all-essential services within a small radius, reducing the carbon footprint of urban living.”  Burt adds, “At 21, I was thinking about mixed-uses, compacting an urban environment in a symbiotic fashion while reducing the carbon footprint—which was quite avant-garde.”

Coming from a family of engineers and creatives, Burt says most of the dinnertime conversations involved concepts of physics, the sciences, and the arts. Looking back, she knows these conversations, along with her desire to make a difference in this world, laid the groundwork for her current profession. “With architecture, you can create living art through space and change the urban fabric—and that is kind of special. You can also think of solutions to real-life problems affecting us regionally and globally. Our education allows you to problem solve, and with that skill set, you can pursue different interests.”

Problem solving and innovation are at the heart of Hafsa Burt’s life mission. In a male-dominated career field, she exerts her dominance by making the world a cleaner, better place to live. When asked to share some advice for other women who aspire to become architects, she left us with these words, “Acquire as many skills as possible while in school because that will most certainly make you stand out. Also, reach out and support each other—support other women.” Wise words from a woman focused on a sustainable planet and equity for all.

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