News You Can Use

News You Can Use is a timely digest of webinars, events, recent news, research, resources, and discussion from across the building industry focused on driving the radical reduction of building construction and materials.

Written and updated by @martintorres, edited by [Fred Bernstein] (Fred A. Bernstein) @fredabernstein

Recent News, Research, Resources, and Discussion

Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) news and media coverage.

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Building industry ‘well off track’ on carbon efficiency

The new Systems Change Lab report shows that the built environment sector in the UK is ‘well off track’ meeting the target necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. Ahead of the opening of UN COP26 tomorrow, Don McLean, Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES Ltd.), said the findings are extremely worrying. “The built environment accounts for 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint due to high and often wasteful energy use in buildings, so it’s clear we need a real push to raise awareness of not only the nature and scale of the task ahead amongst those working in the sector, but also the tools we have at our disposal that can quickly make a tangible difference," he said. The report suggests that the energy intensity of buildings needs to drop at a rate almost three times faster than now, so it’s time to step up, he added. When accounting for the #embodiedcarbon carbon of building interiors, systems, and associated infrastructure, #carbonfootprint percentages are substantially higher.

Celebrating diversity in architecture

Powerful and provocative essay by Dahmahlee L. in the SKINS newsletter from FACADE TECTONICS INSTITUTE INC Mic Patterson PhD, LEED AP[BDC]

Crucial conversations of diversity & inclusion

Excellent article by William Green on a central challenge facing the building industry in the FACADE TECTONICS INSTITUTE INC SKINS newsletter. Mic Patterson PhD, LEED AP[BDC]

Transformative carbon-storing materials

Congratulations to the Carbon Leadership Forum research team of Julie Kriegh, PhD, AIA, Wil V. Srubar III, PhD, Chris Magwood, Meghan Lewis, and Kate Simonen on the publication of this ground-breaking report on the potential for meaningful climate impact through materials that serve as carbon sinks. Such materials have a clear advantage, with the potential to reverse the climate profile of buildings from a leading driver of carbon emissions to carbon reservoirs that can help reverse it. CLF is a program in the University of Washington College of Built Environments. The research team thanks Microsoft for funding this research, Sean James, Microsoft’s Director of Datacenter Research, for commissioning the project, WSP’s Ben Stanley and Ryan Dicks for their management and support of the project, and CLF’s Monica Huang for help in preparing this publication. #embodiedcarbon

The material that could change the world… for a third time

“Today roads, sidewalks, bridges and skyscrapers are made of a material called concrete. There’s three tons of it for every person on earth. It’s also played a surprisingly large role in rising global temperatures over the last century. So, what exactly makes concrete problematic, and what can we do to fix it? Explore how scientists are working to create a cleaner, more sustainable concrete.”

Supporting our customers on the path to net zero: The Microsoft cloud and decarbonization

“Our goal is to help accelerate adoption of carbon-storing materials not only at Microsoft but industry-wide, and we’re investing in research to find sustainable materials in building foundations, structures and enclosures that can contribute to a carbon-positive architecture. One such example is our work with Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), a nonprofit, industry-academic organization at the University of Washington. Together, we published a study that explores six low-carbon materials: earthen slabs, non-Portland cement #concrete slabs, algae-grown bricks/panels, #mycelium (mushroom) structural tubes, purpose-grown fiber and agricultural waste panels – that can help reduce carbon emissions and change the climate profile of building constructions. Our testing will run through the winter to validate the durability for datacenters and other building types, and we’ll share our learnings for others in the industry to implement.” #embodiedcarbon

Every engineer must embrace change to tackle embodied carbon

Natasha Watson from Buro Happold lays out why #embodiedcarbon is moving to the center of concerns about the building sector in the context of COP 26.

“With the UK working to achieve net zero by 2050, the built environment sector is under increasing pressure to step up to the mark and alter long established methods of working. Change is no easy feat but with the construction sector alone responsible for producing over a third of carbon emissions, we have a duty to play our part, particularly as the impact the built environment has on the environment will come under the spotlight at COP26 from next week. Zero carbon targets will be increasingly required for planning permission. We have already seen this in the most recent update to the London Plan. This states that major developments should be net zero carbon, with developers expected to show whole life cycle carbon emission calculations and what action has been taken to reduce these emissions.” Julie Janiski

Counting carbon for a more sustainable future

Andy Stolworthy of SFS Group explains why the company is embarking on a journey to start tracking how much #embodiedcarbon is embedded within its products.

Justice’s Three Jobs

William Richards, PhD: "Architecture, broadly conceived, is a big world with power centers that determine its shape and the career prospects of those who work within it. But when you consider that its interconnectedness can make those power centers accountable to each other, that big world starts to look a little smaller. When the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture released a statement on racial injustice in June 2020, it joined other collateral organizations in committing to a comprehensive review of “policies, programs, and procedural norms.” More importantly, ACSA committed to a reckoning within the system of architectural training and practice—a system that, at worst, has weaponized design against the disenfranchised and, at best, has neutralized design to be a passive agent of privilege. “We understand,” the statement says, “that architectural education has for too long accepted white privilege as the norm, limiting diverse voices and marginalizing the discipline’s impact on society.”

COP26: Sufficiency Should be First

Excellent discussion by Yamina Saheb in Buildings & Cities journal.

“The direct, indirect, and #embodiedcarbon CO2 emissions from the global building stock were above 14 Gt by 2020 (IEA 2021). This is almost double of 1990 emissions from buildings. Yet during the last three decades, there has been a worldwide acceleration of the adoption of building #energypolicy. The collective failure in significantly curbing emissions from buildings raises questions about whether the present approach to #climatechange mitigation policies is adequate and effective. Efficiency improvements, combined with the slow adoption of renewable energy and minor behavioural changes, are insufficient to deliver on the 1.5°C target.”

CLF MEP 2040 Challenge

“All systems engineers shall advocate for and achieve net zero carbon in their projects: #operationalcarbon by 2030 and #embodiedcarbon by 2040.”

Will your firm be on the leading edge of change and sign the Commitment?

  • Establish a company plan to reduce carbon across #MEP systems, target zero by 2040.
  • Request low-GWP refrigerant availability.
  • Request Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
  • Participate in a quarterly MEP 2040 Forum and discussion group.

Momentum, commitment, scale: Experts break down what it will take to hit climate goals

Colorado “Nutrition Labels” on Construction Materials Will Flag Carbon Instead of Fat, Salt, and Sugar

“A new law on #embodiedcarbon puts Colorado in the vanguard of those demanding to know how much CO2 was produced while crafting key building materials like cement and asphalt… Colorado Rep. Tracey Bernett said Colorado supporters of the bill are fielding calls from multiple states, conservation groups and regulators. Seven states introduced proposals to track or cut embodied carbon in 2021, according to Meghan Lewis, a researcher at the University of Washington and part of the Carbon Leadership Forum. Colorado’s was the second to pass, after California, Lewis said, ‘with Colorado’s having a more comprehensive materials list.’”

Building Industry Leaders to World Governments: It’s Time to Lead on Climate

Many thanks to Architecture 2030 and Edward Mazria for organizing this important communique.

Building Industry Leaders to World Governments: It’s Time to Lead on Climate! Leading building industry groups commit to 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, and challenge governments to do the same.

“More than 60 of the largest and most influential international architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and construction firms, collectively responsible for over $300 billion in annual construction, along with two dozen organizations representing over one million building industry professionals worldwide, issued a Communiqué to government leaders headed to the #unitednations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) challenging them to step up their #emissionsreduction targets for the #builtenvironment. The firms and organizations are signatories of the 1.5°C #cop26glasgow Communiqué — an open letter to sovereign governments demonstrating the firms’ and organizations’ commitment to meet the #parisagreement’s 1.5°C carbon budget and demanding governments do the same.”

Boston enacts building decarbonization ordinance

“The city of Boston will require all buildings over 20,000 square feet to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 under a new ordinance the Boston City Council approved Sept. 22. The ordinance applies to about 4% of the city’s structures, including commercial and residential buildings that produce 60% of the city’s building emissions.”

California Enacts Legislation to Slash Cement Emissions

California Charts Path to Carbon Neutral Cement

Big news on reducing embodied carbon in buildings–the governor officially signed SB596 requiring that California’s cement industry achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible, and no later than 2045 (with an interim requirement of 40% reduction by 2035). It directs the Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive roadmap for how to get their. This will create a long term road map for cement and forge a path forward for others to follow.

In the near term there are many effective strategies to significantly lower the carbon emissions from concrete that we at EHDD are using on our projects now.

Next up on the policy front is adding concrete to the Buy Clean California Act to incentivize low carbon concrete on state projects, and adding Embodied Carbon in Buildings to CalGreen.

Nexii and Trane Partner to Construct Sustainable Commercial Projects

Trane and Nexii Building Solutions Inc. have joined forces to create sustainable commercial buildings with significantly reduced carbon footprints…Nexii’s building designs use an innovative building system and proprietary material, ‘Nexiite,’ that minimizes #embodiedcarbon, construction waste, and energy use, while reducing build times and costs versus conventional building products. Trane’s connected heating, cooling and indoor air quality portfolio will enable these buildings to reduce energy use and improve their indoor environment.” Zosia Brown, PhD Nancy Maribel

Failure to teach net-zero architecture skills “is negligent and verges on denialism” says Anthropocene Architecture School founder

"Architecture schools must prioritise teaching students net-zero design skills to effectively prepare them for future work, says Anthropocene Architecture School founder Scott McAulay.

Speaking to Dezeen, McAulay said that if the industry is to help alleviate climate change, emerging architects must be taught how to eliminate #carbonemissions from the built environment…Net-zero carbon buildings are designed to eliminate all possible emissions in both #embodiedcarbon, which are emissions caused by the construction supply chain, and #operationalcarbon, which are emissions caused by the building’s use. Any remaining emissions must be offset using schemes that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Embodied carbon: an urgent call for decarbonization

The promise of carbon-neutral steel

A new #manufacturing technique could drastically reduce the #carbonfootprint of one of our dirtiest materials. Currently, blast furnaces utilize coke (a processed form of coal) to reduce steel in a process that emits large amounts of CO2. New technologies use hydrogen rather than coke in a process powered by renewable energy and resulting in a fraction of previous #co2emissions from #steelmaking. How quickly can these new solutions scale up to dramatically reduce #embodiedcarbon? Thanks to The New Yorker’s Matthew Hutson for this intriguing look at a low-carbon future.

An inside look into how Microsoft is reducing embodied carbon

Congratulations to Microsoft on releasing its Reducing Embodied Carbon in Construction whitepaper–an inside look into how Microsoft is reducing emissions and water during the construction of new buildings and datacenters at their Puget Sound headquarters to be carbon negative by 2030.

Microsoft interviewed Skanska’s Stacy Smedley, Mark J. Chen and Nicholas Pemper to discuss the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (#EC3) tool, a free, open-access database (first incubated by Carbon Leadership Forum and now developed by Building Transparency ), which allows building design and construction teams to directly compare #EPDs against each other and select products based on their emissions performance criteria. The construction team also discusses the process for tracking and reducing construction site activity emissions and water.

“The thing we like most about EC3 is the commitment to be free and open access—the data is democratized making it easier for companies and organizations to use it to inform decisions.” — Katie Ross, Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities

How climate commitments are transforming design

Can timber construction be a significant carbon sink?

In ARCHITECT Magazine: With the #builtenvironment being the largest contributor of global emissions, Blaine Brownell, FAIA LEED AP researches whether increasing the use of timber would help.

“The study advances analysis of the use of #timber in building construction as a #carbonreduction strategy on a planetary scale. Prior research has highlighted wood’s capacity to store carbon and, in most cases, outperform steel and concrete in terms of environmental performance…More research is needed to assess the viability of any scheme that proposes a significant worldwide transition to timber. Nevertheless, the idea to use buildings as a planetary carbon sequestration strategy is laudable both for its boldness and its necessity.”

Learning from nature: from ecosystem thinking to climate action at the museum

Our goal is to eliminate #embodiedcarbon in #buildings and #infrastructure by inspiring #innovation and spurring change through collective action. What can #buildingindustry professionals learn from #museums to become agents of change?

"If we think of the museum as an ecosystem, we must remember that it is a complex system. Policy, politics, economic structures, activism, funders and investors, visitors and employees are all part of it. The complexity of the museum as a system also necessitates new forms of capturing ideas, to ensure that feedback and ideas for change don’t get lost. "

We can’t build our way out of the environmental crisis

Are we doing #infrastructureinvestment AND also reducing #embodiedcarbon? More “#greenbuilding” is not necessarily a climate solution.

“The environmental benefits of new schemes are routinely overstated while the costs are underplayed. HS2 is again emblematic: though it has been promoted as a greener way to travel, the government’s estimates suggest that it could, overall, release more #carbonemissions than it saves. Bypasses that were meant to relieve traffic jams merely shunt congestion to the next pinch point. Big hydroelectric dams routinely produce less #electricity than promised while destroying entire #ecosystemservices. One reason for the #environmentalcosts of new infrastructure is the massive footprint of #concrete, whose carbon emissions may never be recouped. Another is the way new building creates new demand. This is an explicit aim of the government’s national infrastructure strategy and its “10-point plan for a green industrial revolution”. But you don’t solve a problem by making it bigger.”

Building to fight climate change requires hustle, co-operation, AIA conference told

The green building sector is evolving at lightning speed with new products, tools, regulations, certifications and standards emerging all the time, and American #architects have to be prepared to move fast and be ready for the next wave. That was the key point driven home by webinar host Leila Pourzahedi, a lifecycle assessment lead with Owens Corning, during a recent session billed as The State of #climateaction in the #buildingindustry: How Architects Can Make a Difference. She was speaking on the final day of the AIA Conference on Architecture.

“There is a lot of work to be done in this space for the #buildingandconstruction industry to move in a direction and at a speed that is aligned with global targets and timelines,” Pourzahedi said. “We need immense co-operation across the whole value chain, we need to raise awareness about the importance of #embodiedcarbon and provide education where needed to improve our capabilities.”