Jan 18, 2020

Foundations Critical to the EC3 Tool’s Development

Since its beta release at Greenbuild in November, the EC3 tool has generated interest and enthusiasm across the industry, leading to multiple news articles, testimonials, and meetups of industry professionals exploring use of the tool to dramatically decrease embodied carbon emissions associated with materials and construction. By release of the tool, almost 50 companies endorsed and sponsored the tool’s development. However, two foundations were key early leaders and supporters of the project and shepherded its development for over a year before its release.

We’ve asked Anne Ellis and Don Davies from the leading foundations involved to explain why they invested so heavily in the EC3 tool’s development.

Charles Pankow Foundation

Anne M. Ellis, P.E., FACI, F.ASCE

by Anne Ellis, executive director of the Charles Pankow Foundation (CPF)
Our mission is to provide the industry with better ways to design and build. We utilize our resources – our leadership and funding  – to serve as a catalyst for industry innovation in the design and construction of buildings. We strive for collective, scalable impact. Our model of operation is unique. Our initiatives are industry identified, led and supported including owners, designers, builders, the supply chain and academia. Work is accomplished via collaboration of subject matter experts from across industry and academia. Our investments have been pivotal in advancing efforts to track and reduce embodied carbon emissions.

Our investments have been pivotal in advancing efforts to track and reduce embodied carbon emissions. Through CPF grant agreements, we have funded several embodied carbon projects led by Kate Simonen and the Carbon Leadership Forum:

  • The Embodied Carbon Benchmark Study published December 2016, which compiled the largest known database of building embodied carbon and created an data visualization tool.
  • Life Cycle Assessment of Buildings: A Practice Guide and related collateral published June 2019 provided industry with standardized and accessible guidance on how to conduct an LCA of a building.
  • Embodied Carbon for Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Tenant Improvements Study and related collateral to establish a preliminary range of likely embodied carbon impacts for MEP and TI components in commercial office buildings.
  • Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator and Methodology to inform carbon smart choices during design, material specification and procurement.

We were there practically from the start and when industry interest and support was limited. The EC3 tool’s predecessor work helped to build interest and create momentum.

Another key CPF contribution is the engagement of non-Carbon Leadership Forum members and contributors including, but not limited to,  those that develop and publish industry-critical codes, standards and guidance such as the American Concrete Institute and the American Institute of Steel Construction. These organizations bring not only national but also global gravitas and recognition to what may be otherwise a “local” embodied carbon effort.
Last year we became a lead sponsor and grant manager for the ground-breaking platform, the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool. What excites me about the EC3 tool project is the engagement with the supply chain combined with the transparency of the methodology and use of sound data. For many years, supply chain companies, not all but many, were “greening” their operations and products often without recognition and appreciation. At the same time, designers, eager to make a difference, were specifying materials whose impact were difficult to substantiate. Designers also often viewed embodied carbon as a single objective in isolation of other building design and material performance criteria, an unrealistic and self-defeating approach.

Now we have a transparent tool utilizing actual data to inform the designers and allow the owner and contractor to substantiate embodied carbon and make procurement decisions. With these efforts, collectively we are making a significant impact and with the ability to do so much more. Momentum is in our favor.

MKA Foundation

by Don Davies, President of Magnussen Klemencic Associates

Don Davies, P.E., S.E.

Fifty years ago, we were a divided country, but we also went to the moon by agreeing to work together on a common goal. That challenge required stepping out of our competitive silo’s and focusing on something that couldn’t be solved by any one entity alone. It also involved starting down a path before we had all of the answers in order to meet the goals. We did, however, know a direction we wanted to go in and we had a collective motivation to act.

What is our next moon shot? When looking at the “win at all cost” mentalities of our current politics, it is no doubt discouraging to people on all sides. We do, however, face daunting challenges today, and we could use more collective efforts where we chose to work together for a common cause. One of these next moonshot challenges is how we, members of the building community, respond to climate change.
Time is not our friend on this one. If we are to have success, we need to quickly move out of our individual silos and engage the collective of the building community: owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and material suppliers. If we can find common causes where we can work together, we can set forth thoughtful ideas, and scale their speed of adoption. Last year the MKA Foundation became a lead sponsor for the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool. We chose this endeavor as it embodied the vary essence of what we believe in – fostering the development of a project that engages the entire building community and is a catalyst to accelerated action.

Nearly 50 industry partners came together to develop and deploy this groundbreaking free, open-access, cloud-based tool. It is free and open access. It helps AEC teams, owners, and suppliers to evaluate a project’s overall embodied carbon emissions during design and procurement decision making, making it easier to compare like materials, and enabling the specification and procurement of the lower carbon material options.

Our Foundation is committed to the EC3 tool’s success, providing ongoing counsel and support.

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