Bill Gates is helping garner attention for a critical industry topic – reducing embodied carbon, or the carbon that is created in the manufacturing and construction of building projects. In his blog, GatesNotes, Gates explains some of his recent investments in both products and technologies that help reduce the carbon during the construction and manufacturing of a building.
Gates isn’t the only one inspired to create solutions for this issue. More than 400 architects, developers, contractors, engineers and policy makers came together for the first CarbonPositive event in March, presented by Architecture 2030 and ARCHITECT, that explored all aspects of design and construction approaches, and strategies and tools to design and build a carbon-positive future.
Inspired by Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, the conference attendees will combine forces on phasing out all fossil fuels by 2040 and will put together a zero-carbon building code. These collective actions are part of what it will take to solve the giant task ahead. Donald Davies, president, Magnusson Klemencic Associates was one of the thought leaders who spoke at the recent conference. He also recently chatted with Philip Beere, host of the HIVE Re:Think podcast, on the ways the industry is addressing embodied carbon. Listen here now.
Both Davies and Gates talk about the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator that was released in November 2019 as a free, cloud-based tool for benchmarking, assessment and reductions in embodied carbon. Now being coined the EC3, the tool allows vendor specific Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs, to be understood across the project’s stakeholders and before a product is specified so that it can be calculated for the project as a whole.
Richard Braunstein, vice president research and development, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope and their team is preparing products to go into the tool.
“The value here is really in the aggregated data for multiple product categories across common metrics allowing AEC professionals to compare products and companies – it starts to help them decide where opportunities for carbon reductions are meaningful,” said Braunstein.
Before the tool, Davies points out that the data necessary to consider during the design process was missing. Yet, even with the tool, the data is still difficult to come by. For instance, the tool relies on data from BIM models, construction estimates and EPDs. However, materials such as timber do not have a credible certification process that can be verified on site like concrete and steel do.
Davies is optimistic that the timber industry could come up with certification that includes data on carbon emissions during the harvest, processing and transport of the wood. Even if that certification was in place, there are still even more considerations for wood during its entire use life cycle that also would need to be included and further complicate it as a sustainable building choice.
Many building product manufacturers, such as Oldcastle, are in a learning curve, working on what it will take to minimize carbon output in the manufacturing, transportation and installation of products.
“To do this, we are conducting Life Cycle Assessments of many of our products so we can learn from our actions and work to reduce our footprint,” said Braunstein. “And, we look forward to adding our own product EPDs to the database once complete. We understand the value of not only providing this information to the AEC community, but also providing it in a platform that is easy to access for all product decisions they’re making.”
There are many success stories out there now that are inspiration for the industry. For example, Victoria Kate Burrows, director of advancing net zero at the World Green Building Council, spoke at the conference about the organization’s global campaign to accelerate uptake of net zero carbon buildings to 100% by 2050.
She also shared a few projects that were meeting these stringent specifications, including a regeneration project called Park Hill in Sheffield, United Kingdom that has 1,000 units of housing.
Another presenter in her session, Andrew Lee, director of energy and carbon at the International Living Futures Institute, also shared a few projects that are on track to be zero carbon, including the Salesforce Global commercial office with 3.5 million square feet, and Microsoft’s campus modernization with 17 buildings and 3 million square feet. He also shared another housing project called 303 Battery St. in Seattle that will have 85 market rate units and 27 affordable units in 15 stories using a prefabrication system that reduced the weight of the project by 70% and that can ultimately scale to more than 40 stories.
These projects and the initiatives mentioned earlier are all possible with collective action, including every stakeholder at every level.
“We know we have a role to play in providing transparency around the solutions that can help the designs the AEC community creates achieve better performance,” said Braunstein. “We are very willing and able to work alongside our AEC partners to ensure more transparency and to understand the tools they need to help lead the design and construction of a more sustainable future.”
Show your interest and support – read more here and pass along.