As most individuals involved with green building probably know, green building is just one strategy to combat the overall global warming and carbon emissions issue.  Green building strategies, it is believed, reduce CO2 emissions, thus helping combat global warming.

Numerous cities, states, entities and individuals have pledged to become carbon neutral.  A pledge of carbon neutrality means that the entity pledges to “balance the amount of greenhouse gases it emits through industry and other human activities with the amount of greenhouse gases it eliminates.”  A recent article highlights a Chinese city, Rizhao, which has declared its intentions to become carbon neutral.  

So how exactly does a city become carbon neutral?  Not surprisingly, the push for carbon neutrality in Rizhao required changes to existing building codes and construction practices: 

“The first important measure was to popularize solar hot water," says Wang Shugang, chief of Rizhao’s EPB. Nearly every building in Rizhao now supports dark arrays of tubing to heat the water, or grill-like units beneath the ubiquitous enclosed terraces of most apartments.

Obviously, not every building will voluntarily agree to install new “tubing and grill-like units” to deliver solar hot water.  Mandatory changes in construction practices to incorporate green building strategies require changes to existing building codes.  Cities throughout the United States are currently making similar, but less stringent green building changes to building codes.  

While changes to green building codes may be feasible in the United States, the second step undertaken by Rizhao seems less plausible:

The second important step, according to Wang, was to "shut down many small-size enterprises [that] are really high consumers of coal as well as use central heating. New enterprises don’t need their own boilers."  Industries that shut down or moved as a result of the go-green effort include cement, papermaking and steel.

Could you imagine the constitutional challenges that would occur if a United States city attempted to re-locate high-polluting industries?  Based on these potential legal challenges, it may be some time before we see a United States city pledge carbon neutrality.

It appears that Rizhao has recognized some legal constraints on its push for carbon neutrality: 

Rizhao is the ninth biggest port in all of China, according to Fan, exporting seafood and other goods to Japan and South Korea. It’s difficult to make such shipping carbon-neutral, he notes. "We can’t do anything for those ships because they do not belong to us."

At some point, a United States city may pledge to become carbon neutral.  The relevant legal issues and challenges will set an important precedent for the construction industry.