Potential Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & Carbon Emissions In The Residential & Commercial Sectors

The commercial and residential sector is one of the industries that emits the most greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

In this guide, we look at potential solutions for reducing emissions in the commercial and residential sector.


Summary – Solutions For Reducing Commercial & Residential Sector Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions in the commercial and residential sector come from on-site and off-site sources

Off site/indirect sources include the burning fossil fuels (like coal and natural gas) for electricity generation

And, on-site/direct sources include the energy required to perform residential and commercial activities – heating and cooling, lighting, refrigeration, drinking and waste water, solid waste management, and so on

One of the best approaches for reducing emissions in cities might be to reduce total consumption, as well as consumption rates

But, a primary off site solution may involve transitioning from dirtier energy sources like coal to natural gas, and eventually to the cleanest energy sources like renewables (and possibly nuclear)

On-site solutions might include … 

Better energy efficiency in both new builds and retrofits when it comes to residential and commercial building designs, systems and products/appliances, and fixtures. Some studies show new build modifications may have more emission abatement potential, but retrofitting may be cheaper or more cost effective per tonne of emissions saved.

Better energy efficiency for heating, cooling, lighting, building materials like insulation, and so on

Better energy efficiency for drinking water and wastewater systems in buildings

Reduce total waste, more effective waste management systems and facilities, more recycling and composting where it’s environmentally friendly to do so, and air contaminant and greenhouse gas capture technology for landfills and incineration sites

Reduce leakage from refrigeration equipment


*Note – every country has a different greenhouse gas emission profile (because their industries are all different sizes, and they might have different production processes to each other). The above are general solutions, but, a greenhouse gas solution plan should be put together for each individual country, state/province, or city. China and the US are of particular significance as they are currently the two biggest annual emitters of GHGs. But, we could also focus on the countries with the highest commercial and residential sector emissions as well.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector, & In The Commercial/Residential Sector

Read more in this guide about the industries that emit the most greenhouse gases and CO2 – both globally, and in individual countries.

As one excerpt … 

In 2010, the total global greenhouse gas emissions by sector globally, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e), were:

  • Total – 50.58 million
  • Energy – 23.24 million
  • Land Use Sources – 5.54 million
  • Transport – 5.54 million
  • Agriculture – 5.08 million
  • Commercial & Residential – 3.74 million
  • Industry – 3.47 million
  • Waste – 1.45 million
  • Forestry – 1.18 million
  • International Bunkers – 1.08 million
  • Other Sources – 267,609.41 thousand

– ourworldindata.org

But, as mentioned, each country has a different emissions share by sector, so look at individual country greenhouse gas numbers too (and not just the numbers of one country, or global numbers). Also, note that different sectors emit different types of GHGs in different quantities (e.g. methane from agriculture needs to be considered).


Potential Options/Solutions For Reducing Greenhouse Gas & CO2 Emissions In The Residential & Commercial Sector

EPA.gov outlines some of the following solutions (paraphrased):

  • Reducing energy use through energy efficiency in homes and commercial buildings – Implement [more efficient] fittings, products, appliances, designs and layouts for new builds and retrofitting to existing builds. Heating, cooling, lighting, [and refrigeration] and other functions all use up energy [that can be made more efficient]. [In addition, building materials like insulation can increase energy efficiency within a building – especially for regulating temperature]. [Other efficiency upgrades can come in the form of] efficient fluorescent lighting; and passive heating and lighting to take advantage of sunlight. [Consider products and systems with energy efficiency program labels and ratings] 
  • Making water and wastewater systems more energy-efficient during wastewater treatment – Drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 3 percent to 4 percent of energy use in the United States. Studies estimate potential savings of 15 percent to 30 percent that are “readily achievable” in water and wastewater plants. More info can be found at https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure 
  • Reducing solid waste sent to landfills, and capturing and using methane produced in current landfills during waste management – [Reduce the amount of organic waste and total waste that goes to landfill via] recycling programs, waste reduction programs, and landfill methane capture programs. Landfill gas can also be captured and used for energy. [Aerobic composting is also an option, as well as reducing food waste]
  • Reducing leakage from refrigeration equipment, and using refrigerants with lower global warming potentials – Recent modern refrigeration technology can help food retailers reduce both refrigerant charges and refrigerant emissions. 

– epa.gov


Specific examples of greenhouse gas mitigation options in the commercial and residential sector might be:

  • Improving the energy efficiency of residential electronics
  • Improving the energy efficiency of residential appliances (timers, cycling, low power modes etc.)
  • Retrofitting residential and commercial HVAC systems
  • Retrofitting insulation 
  • Waste recycling and composting
  • Improving the energy efficiency of lighting systems in residential and commercial
  • More efficiency and better designs of new builds
  • Indirect changes that can be made to electricity generation sites – more investment in renewable energy sources, migration away from coal and fossil fuels, carbon sequestration etc. – essentially decarbonisation

– ourworldindata.org


Economics Of Reducing Energy GHG & Carbon Emissions In The Commercial & Residential Sector

Some very rough GHG emission mitigation cost estimates for the commercial and residential sector can be found at https://ourworldindata.org/how-much-will-it-cost-to-mitigate-climate-change.

One of the things we see is that looking at building efficiency in new builds might be one of the most effective abatement options for a reasonable price.

Comparatively, some retrofitting options may not have a significant abatement impact – although, some are quite cost effective.


Emissions Breakdown, & Emission Trends In The Commercial & Residential Sector

It’s important to know information such as the prevalent greenhouse gas, exactly where emissions are coming from (the source), and trends over time in a sector.


In the US:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from this sector come from direct emissions including fossil fuel combustion for heating and cooking needs (mainly natural gas consumption), management of waste (to landfill) and wastewater plants, and leaks from refrigerants in homes and businesses as well as indirect emissions that occur offsite but are associated with use of electricity consumed by homes and businesses (for lighting, appliances etc.).
  • Emissions from natural gas consumption represent about 78 percent of the direct fossil fuel COemissions from the residential and commercial sectors
  • Coal consumption is a minor component of energy use in both of these sectors.

Read more at https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#commercial-and-residential



1. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

2. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#commercial-and-residential

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/industries-sectors-that-emit-the-most-greenhouse-gases-carbon-dioxide/ 

4. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure 

5. https://ourworldindata.org/how-much-will-it-cost-to-mitigate-climate-change

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/breakdown-energy-use-production-in-china-now-future/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/summary-greenhouse-gas-emissions-in-china-past-present-future/

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