It is time for building design professionals to track and report the embodied carbon of their projects.
Embodied carbon refers to the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport, and construction of buildings materials, together with end-of-life emissions.
The imperative is clear.
Buildings are responsible for about 40% of global CO2 emissions – over a quarter of which is from the embodied carbon of materials and construction.
As Ed Mazria has recently noted, quickly reducing the embodied carbon in building materials and construction over the next decade is critical. For all of the buildings built between 2021 and 2030, embodied carbon will be responsible for 72% of their total CO₂ emissions.
We have the tools to predict it.
In pursuit of carbon-neutral buildings, design teams are encouraged to conduct whole building life-cycle analyses on projects.
There are a range of tools now available to help teams model and optimize the embodied carbon of their projects. The Athena EcoCalculator, Tally, EC3, OneClick LCA, and eTool all offer unique opportunities for project teams to assess embodied carbon. When using any of these tools, teams are encouraged to be mindful of LCA stage and scope to better ensure the accuracy of predicted results.
We have a platform to report it.
The Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) at the University of Washington continues to stand out as one of several industry leaders conducting substantive research into the embodied carbon of buildings.
However, when it comes to platforms for tracking and reporting the predicted embodied carbon of projects, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) offers a platform that design firms may be interested in. The AIA recently redesigned their Design Data Exchange (DDx) for 2030 Commitment signatory firms. With the update comes several new features including the ability to report embodied carbon.
It will be messy, but it is necessary.
Indeed, design firms tracking and self-reporting predicted embodied carbon is not standardized or subject to quality assurance protocols. The process will be messy. However, if we’re being honest, let’s admit that predicting the operational energy and carbon consequences of our building projects has always been messy. But that has never stopped us from moving forward, learning from each other, and improving the way we work – nor should it stop us now.
Included here is a snapshot of a handful of projects for which my firm has endeavored to model initial embodied carbon. These numbers do not paint a complete picture as the data only represents the structure and envelope (in accordance with the required scope for LEEDv4) – missing are interiors, mechanical systems, and other components. But we’re starting to develop a frame of reference.