Building the Path to Paris (Zack Semke)

Room 1 • 11:00 – 11:30 AM • Friday, Oct. 19


We live in interesting times. On the one hand, we face a daunting climate crisis whose impacts are felt more every year. On the other, the clean energy transition is accelerating faster than the rosiest predictions just a few years ago, presenting the real possibility of meaningful climate action on a global scale. But where do buildings, and Passive House, fit into this picture? How important will buildings be in reaching our Paris climate goals?

In his new talk, NK Architects’ Zack Semke will combine the latest developments in global climate action with recently published policy research from Grantham Institute, Energy Transitions Commission, DNV GL, and the journal Science about the role buildings must play in limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. He will present the current state of the global clean energy transition, the magnitude of progress still necessary, and how Passive House can enable a full clean energy transition.

Zack will also report on the growing movement in policy circles to embrace an envelope-first approach to reducing building energy use for climate solution making, including work at the United Nations ECE, Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Buildings Plan, NY policies, and grassroots coalition-building like that of Shift Zero, a zero net carbon building alliance in Seattle that is building support for Passive House-levels of efficiency. Zack will then suggest how Pittsburgh can borrow ideas from this policymaking and build on the strong foundation that the city has already laid with the Pittsburghp4 initiative.


As Chief Marketing Officer, Zack develops and implements NK Architects’ strategies to drive growth and develop mission-aligned work. Zack earned his BA from Stanford University, majoring in Human Biology with a concentration in Human Ecology. He was the first staffer of the Coalition for a Livable Future, a Portland, Oregon-based coalition of environmental, affordable housing, transportation reform, and smart growth organizations. He then co-led the performing arts group, Portland Taiko for 11 years. He earned his graduate certificate in design from the Landscape Institute at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, and was later introduced to Passive House by builder Hammer & Hand. A member of Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Zack is a regular keynote speaker at sustainability conferences, highlighting the role of high performance building in climate action. Zack serves on the Passive House Northwest board and co-chairs the Steering Committee of Shift Zero, a zero net carbon building alliance.