Greenhouse Pioneer: Neil Smith, Net Zero Buildings

We talk to Neil Smith, CEO of Net Zero Buildings, which designs, manufactures and installs buildings which generate far more energy than they consume. He has been nominated for Innovator of the Year at the BusinessGreen Technology Awards, to be announced on Friday 1 December 2017.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Net Zero Buildings – what’s your mission? 

We use technology to create, deliver and fund intelligent electric buildings that eliminate carbon emissions from built the environment.

What drives you? 

Arresting climate change is one of the most important and complex challenges ever faced by humanity. The electrification and eventual decarbonisation of the transportation sector is a laudable initiative that is gathering extraordinary momentum and seems likely to succeed. Like transportation, the built environment is responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, but unlike that sector, no-one is doing much about it.

Despite the enormity of the stakes, the problem attracts little attention, only small pockets of innovation and almost no governmental leadership. My company has responded to this challenge with a real world systemic solution that is changing the way buildings are designed and delivered. I am driven to push a high-impact solution to this.

Sustainable building

What is your greatest achievement to date? 

We design manufacture and install buildings that generate at least five times more energy than they consume. This is simple to achieve if you don’t need to consider the economics. But if you expect anyone to buy your building, you are compelled to achieve cost parity with the competition. If you expect to create a sustainable business model, you have do it consistently, without compromising the quality or durability of the product. This was very difficult and represents the pinnacle of our achievements – to date.

What are the challenges you face?

Apathy and ignorance

Where do you want to take Net Zero Buildings next? 

We are amongst a small group of contractors that have been selected to deliver the ESFA’s 2017 Construction Framework, a four year, £8 billion school building program. They seem genuinely excited about off-site manufacture, lifecycle cost reductions and decarbonisation. We hope to harness that excitement and influence government from ‘inside the tent’, taking a leading role in the execution of our mission.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

We can arm ourselves with knowledge about the challenges that we face and solutions that already exist. We can then challenge the existing order to do things better. Enlightened individuals from younger generations do this with a sincerity that is both potent and disarming. I regularly witness the children who occupy the spaces that we create talking to visiting dignitaries presiding over the opening ceremony. They often say something like: ‘If we know the answer to this massive problem, why does your generation keep getting it wrong?’

Inside one of Net Zero Buildings' constructionsCan you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

Usually, I am listening to my wife and children involved in some animated family discussion, thankfully interspersed with much laughter.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

Leave things better than you found them, or leave them alone.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero? 

Elon Musk.