Embodied carbon. What is it? And how do we discuss and mitigate its impact?
Gregory Kingsley, PhD, PE and Victoria Herrero-Garcia shared their expertise of embodied carbon and its effect on the built environment during a recent AIA Colorado webinar.
How is embodied carbon defined? From our panelists’ discussion, the Carbon Leadership Forum provides this definition, “Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.” It is also known as Global Warming Potential and includes emissions from all six main greenhouse gases.
But, here is the challenge: Embodied carbon is an urgent threat due to its pre-building occupancy relationship in the lifecycle cost assessment. Once construction and related activities are complete, reducing embodied carbon is moot. Reinforcing this urgency, the State of Colorado is leading the legislative way by introducing embodied carbon policy.
Who are the major stakeholders and decision makers that can directly affect embodied carbon? Owners, architects, general contractors, and structural engineers. It is imperative to have this conversation with the owner, sharing pros, cons, and effects.
Which materials are in this embodied carbon conversation? Concrete, steel and wood. There are several alternatives to consider, but wood (mass timber) is known as the most likely way to reduce embodied carbon, yet the costs are currently higher. If steel, then reusing steel enables a cost nullification and fair reduction of global warming potential. It is recommended to use supplementary cementitious materials in lieu of concrete.
Reducing embodied carbon takes a team and informed approach. Architects can talk with clients and engage contractors and structural engineers early in the process. Consider building reuse instead of new construction. Regardless, start the conversation to see transformation.