by Anthony Hickling, Managing Director, Carbon Leadership Forum
As we’ve noted in previous newsletters, the Carbon Leadership Forum’s “theory of change” is a kind of roadmap to guide our work. We say that through collective action, informed by data and motivated by policy we can build for a better planet. In this newsletter you’ll see each of those key strategies are making an impact to decarbonize buildings and construction.
For example, we have exciting news on the topic of embodied carbon data.This month we are officially releasing a significant update to our 2021 Material Baselines to help you calculate the carbon footprint for a wider range of building materials (see below). This is a resource you can start using today, and you can expect further updates to the Material Baselines as we continue to refine the data and broaden the range of materials covered.
With resources like this, we expect builders and policy-makers like yourself will get a better sense of where to focus your efforts to drive improvements now. Together with you, our network and community partners, we can make a measurable difference.
Join Five Awesome CLF Members as They Explore the Frontiers of Radical Conservation and Materials Reuse
- Emma Reif - Project Director at Thornton Tomasetti
- Luke Lombardi - Project Engineer at Thornton Tomasetti
- Catherine Paplin - Senior Consultant at S teven Winter
- Walter Cain - Principal at WaCa Design LLC
- Aditya Bhagath - Associate at Thornton Tomasetti
Luke Lombardi, Emma Reif, and Aditya Bhagath will present “Conserving Carbon Assets through Resilient Thinking” a brief look into reframing the embodied carbon challenge with a lens toward protecting and preserving our building stock that is vulnerable to natural hazards.
Catherine Paplin will present “Climate salvation through building salvage,” covering how key policy and practice changes could effect radical, immediate carbon emissions reductions by prioritizing building preservation and reuse over new construction.
And Walter Cain will share “Reusing Building Materials: from Obligation to Opportunity” Reusing salvaged materials is an effective strategy for designers obliged to minimize embodied energy in construction projects, but these materials also present opportunities for innovative design.
“Newly added materials include concrete masonry units (CMU), steel wire and mesh, steel decking, aluminum extrusions, thermally improved aluminum extrusions, insulated metal panels (IMP), and metal roof and wall panels.”
Architects, engineers, and builders are often faced with the challenge of choosing products or materials and evaluating their relative embodied carbon impacts alongside a host of other factors.
Early this year, the CLF published the 2021 Carbon Leadership Forum Material Baselines to support decision makers and their efforts toward embodied carbon reduction by providing information on the typical embodied carbon of construction materials, and the expected range and variability within a category. Instead of providing a single number, the CLF baselines help users understand the range of values and find opportunities for improvement and goal-setting throughout a project: from early design approximations to final evaluation and benchmarking.
Thornton Tomasetti’s project for the Texas Health Hospital uses timber instead of steel or concrete as a key part of a more resilient future. When managed sustainably, timber can be a renewable resource that substantially reduces the embodied carbon in a building’s design. “We develop our own expertise and experience with embodied carbon reduction, while hoping what we are doing is inspiring others in the industry so that together we can make real change happen…this is our best opportunity to demonstrate positive impact.”
by Amy Hattan
Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, Thornton Tomasetti
Nine years ago, I began working at the engineering services firm Thornton Tomasetti as its first Corporate Responsibility Officer. My earliest task was to manage the annual reporting required for members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Commitment – and to engage in this reporting with a unique twist.
The Commitment, whose members are mostly architects, asks that member firms submit the predicted energy use intensity for their projects.
At that time, my firm was primarily engaged in structural engineering, and measuring the operational energy of our projects did not seem to be the best assessment of our direct contribution. Because of the large impact of structural materials on a building’s carbon footprint, we proposed to the AIA that we would report on the embodied carbon in our structural engineering projects. Thus, we began our multi-year R&D project on embodied carbon.
Over the course of our years as a member of the Commitment, we developed a sizeable embodied carbon database of over 600 projects. This comprehensive database gave us the opportunity to engage in several collaborations with the goal of identifying benchmarks for embodied carbon in structures. We collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with the Carbon Leadership Forum.
These collaborations fed into the CLF Embodied Carbon Benchmark Study and to the initiation of the Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge. After sending our embodied carbon report to the AIA year after year for a program that was focused on operational energy use, I was very excited to help start a new commitment that was tailor-made for structural engineers. We need the data from other firms like us to make our own data more relevant to the entire field.
Thais Sartori, a CLF member from the School of Architecture & Built Environment at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, is conducting a PhD project on current practices and future developments in the use of Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) in decision-making. To learn more about the survey from Thais, email email@example.com.
Buildings account for at least 39% of energy-related global carbon emissions on an annual basis. At least one-quarter of these emissions result from embodied carbon, or the carbon emissions associated with building materials and construction. The solutions for addressing embodied carbon in buildings have not been widely studied in the United States, leaving a significant knowledge gap for engineers, architects, contractors, policymakers, and building owners.
Embodied carbon can be reduced significantly at little to no additional up-front cost. The case studies showcased in this report show an embodied carbon savings potential of 24%–46% at cost premiums of less than 1%. Current practice indicates that we can achieve these reductions by specifying and substituting material alternatives with lower embodied carbon during the design and specification process. Far greater reductions are possible when a whole-building design approach is taken.