A Guide for Graduates

Hi everyone,

I wanted to start a conversation that might help people who are just coming into the field of embodied carbon and Life Cycle Assessment. Thank you again to the few CLF members who I’ve already reached out to individually.

Personally, I’ll graduate next spring with a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering and I plan on being a structural engineer. I’ve had some experience creating an LCA as a research assistant on campus, but I haven’t taken any formal classes on LCA or embodied carbon.

Here are four questions I think college graduates might have:

  1. To be involved with embodied carbon in your work do you think it’s best to get into research/academia? (for me this could look like continuing on for a Master’s Degree/Thesis in structural engineering)

  2. As a junior structural engineer, do you think it’s realistic to think one could get a job where embodied carbon is a big part of what you do?

  3. As an architect or structural engineer, does “being a part of reducing embodied carbon” really come down to choosing low impact materials and designing efficiently? Is there more practicing architects/engineers can do, whether it’s in a small or large firm?

  4. Do you think one possible path as a career could be to specialize in a low impact material, like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) or low-embodied carbon concrete?

Thank you for your time! I hope other college graduates can find this topic helpful.

And if you think this post would be better suited in a specific category I can move it there.




Graduate structural engineer with Walter P Moore here (Rice BS '17, UC Berkeley MS '18). All good questions. Through internships, when I told them I was passionate about sustainability, I was usually met with something along the lines of ‘structural engineers can’t do much with sustainability, that’s all for the architects and owners’. Which is wrong, but I didn’t quite have the knowledge, influence, or confidence to try to change their mind (especially because I had and still have a lot to learn). So it’s important to find a structural firm that shares these values and will support you in learning about embodied carbon. I didn’t do a thesis and didn’t learn much about embodied carbon through school, so you can still learn a lot in industry if you find the right spot. There’s a lot that structural engineers can and should do, it’s just about finding the right place where you can soak up a lot of knowledge.

Choosing low impact material and designing efficiently is part of it, but that’s no small task. A lot of what I do is learn about and advocate for low-carbon concrete methods/practices/implementation in the context of a WBLCA for LEED credit (largely because we do a lot of big concrete projects in our office so it’s the most relevant to me). Having a good mentor in this process has been essential for learning and getting plugged into the right conversations.

No need to pigeon-hole yourself into one material or topic now - there’s a lot to learn out there! Feel free to reach out directly if you want to chat - mtorres@walterpmoore.com

@Luke-Lombardi @KRose - anything to add?

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  1. Possibly and possibly not. Many of the people doing research and pioneering tools for measuring and understanding embodied carbon are operating out of academia, so you should expect to continue interacting with academia for your entire career. But then, anyone should expect to continue interacting with academia for their entire career, with or without this focus.
  2. Yes. Much of this discussion is being led and organized by firms, firm leaders and actively practicing engineers. It is definitely a minority of the practice at this point, so insisting on this kind of focus in an employer will narrow your options.
  3. Program matters and the most efficient building is one that already exists. Part of your job will be guiding clients to understand what they actually need out of a project, and that may be more efficient than what they initially think they need. This is a challenge for architects in general. As a structural engineer you will have architects as clients more often than not, so that will be an extra step of complication for you.
  4. As a practicing structural engineer, over time you will find yourself gaining expertise with specific materials to the exclusion of gaining experience with others, so you’ll be specializing anyway. This is another avenue of knowledge about whatever you specialize in. CLT is an emerging material, so if you insist on working with it that too will narrow your options in terms of employers.
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Thank you for responding, this is very helpful and clarifying! I have been so caught up in thinking about graduate school that I hadn’t considered finding a firm that shares those values of EC and LCA. I can imagine a good mentor as being one of the most important ways to learn, just like good professors.

I know this is a complicated puzzle, but would you rank two years of work experience (in the right firm) higher than a two year masters degree? I think this is another big question a lot of undergraduates have in structural engineering.

Thank you! This is helping me think more clearly about how these different pieces function and interact. I hope the minority of the practice turns into a majority sooner than later.

In a building project, do you think structural engineers can/should be the sole guide to the client for embodied carbon decisions?

Send me an e-mail and we can set up a call to chat about it! Long story short - it’s a different kind of learning. The firm I’m at doesn’t really hire full-time without a MS and I can see why. Even though I went straight from undergrad to grad, I can see how 1-2 years of work experience would better contextualize what you learn in graduate school, but for me I preferred to “get it over with” rather than work, go back to school, then work again.