What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Program Manager, StopWaste
My most inspiring work at StopWaste is around making the climate-materials nexus visible. I’ve been a vocal advocate for uncovering this carbon blind-spot among local governments through inclusion of consumption based emissions inventories in their climate action plans. And among embodied carbon of all the materials that flow into a community, the built environment is where governments have the most influence and potential impact. So much can be done through material efficiency, reuse, and circularity, which align perfectly with our agency’s mission. Last year, we helped the County of Marin develop their low carbon concrete code with funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. We also created a board game that simulates city planning and policymaking that reveals both the operational and embodied carbon impacts of community build-out. Now we are supporting the idea of carbon storing buildings with Arup and the California Straw Building Association, and we are excited to be active in the CLF Bay Area hub to advance local policies and best practices in the region. My goal is to facilitate responsible materials management in the era of climate crisis.
Co-chair of Carbon Leadership Forum Network (formerly the Embodied Carbon Network)
Director of the Living Materials Laboratory, University of Colorado Boulder
Director of Advanced Materials, Katerra
At Katerra, I serve as Director of Advanced Materials and lead R&D initiatives related to cement, concrete, and other low-carbon inorganic material technologies. My team recently launched a Roadmap to Zero Carbon Concrete, which includes an aggressive carbon benchmarking and reductions effort related to ready-mix concrete. We’re happy to report that we are meeting our goal of reducing concrete embodied carbon by >35% compared to published NRMCA regional benchmarks. We are also on a path of making quantum-leap advances in developing cost-efficient alternative cement concrete with our ready-mix suppliers and research partners. In addition, we’ve developed the Katerra Environmental Intelligence (KEI) platform—an automated, data-driven software platform that tracks the end-to-end life cycle environmental performance of our building projects. Together, with the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), we recently published a whole-building LCA of the Catalyst Building—our first mass timber building built with Katerra-produced CLT in Spokane. In the report, we show that the biogenic carbon storage of mass timber nearly offset all upfront carbon emissions of the Catalyst Building.
At the University of Colorado Boulder, I am a professor of architectural engineering and materials science, and I lead the Living Materials Laboratory. Our research integrates biology with polymer and cement chemistry to create biomimetic and living materials for the built environment. We focus on carbon-neutral and carbon-storing materials from cellulose, hemp, alternative cements, cyanobacteria, and algae. We were fortunate to have our “biobrick” engineered living materials research highlighted by the New York Times earlier this year, and I recently wrote a piece for The Conversation that showcases advances in the potential of living organisms to architect and “grow” low-carbon buildings of the future. In more recent news, Prometheus Materials, a new start-up company based in Boulder, Colorado, will be bringing many of the carbon-storing material technologies engineered in my lab to market. Stay tuned!
Chair of Buildings Focus Group, Carbon Leadership Forum Network (formerly the Embodied Carbon Network)
Head of Supply Chain Sustainability, WeWork
I was first introduced to embodied carbon and LCA ten years ago, as a researcher on a building material sustainability standards and certifications grant. Five years later, I began using whole building LCA tools for the first time to measure and ultimately inform design and material selection decisions at the scale of the building. At WeWork, I now have the pleasure of considering the challenge of embodied carbon at the scale–not of a single building or material–but for an entire portfolio. I work with leaders across the company to set internal design and operations standards that reduce embodied carbon while also searching for scalable solutions for portfolio embodied carbon accounting to communicate our progress and impact. These efforts are a necessary first step to bringing embodied carbon into the global conversation around carbon neutrality commitments, which, with few exceptions, consider only operational energy use from buildings. I hope that five years from now, embodied carbon neutrality commitments from large companies will be commonplace and reported alongside energy and consumption data in public reports.
With every year, we gain new tools that empower the building industry to communicate and hold ourselves accountable to the enormous impact that embodied carbon has on our global climate and community. At WeWork, because our spaces are generally tenant improvement projects and MEP rather than new construction, we often find ourselves pushing the limit of what data and resources are available. At this, and every stage of my own journey to understanding and acting to reduce embodied carbon, the Carbon Leadership Forum has been a constant source of guidance, thought partnership, and resources. The amazing community brought together by the CLF makes me optimistic that we can and will face this challenge together!
Principal at Priopta & Founder of CLF Vancouver
10 years ago, I moved to Norway to pursue my masters degree in Industrial Ecology, where I learned about Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) from some amazing professors, some of whom were IPCC lead authors. Fast forward to 2018, when I pivoted my company Priopta to focus exclusively on Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) consulting. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether there would even be enough LCA work to make a financially viable business. However, I felt strongly that the industry needed to address embodied carbon and that LCA would need to become standard practice. Since then, I’ve been blown away by how much interest and momentum this topic of embodied carbon has gained, much of it due to all of the great work done by the many people in the Carbon Leadership Forum / Embodied Carbon Network.
One of the issues I noticed with how LCA was typically used in projects was that it was done too late in the design process to meaningfully influence early design decisions to reduce embodied carbon. I decided to focus on developing a Parametric LCA data visualization tool, which could be customized for each project and used as part of our consulting work to help design teams understand and compare many different material design options for every element of the building (foundations, floors, walls, roofs, etc.). Recognizing the importance of promoting awareness on embodied carbon, I also immersed myself in the latest research and reports, compiling all of the best information sources I could find into a compelling presentation that I would give at industry events, conferences, and lunch and learns at leading design firms.
One year ago, I also started the first local chapter of the Embodied Carbon Network in Vancouver (which evolved into the new Carbon Leadership Forum Vancouver). While I loved the online discussions that were taking place on the ECN Basecamp message boards, I felt there was a need to expand this conversation through in-person events to engage local industry professionals. As a former TEDx organizer in Norway, I knew how impactful live in-person events were. Since our first event in April 2019, our team of volunteers organized 9 events and built up a vibrant community of 300+ local industry professionals. The traction we built up locally has inspired leaders from many other cities to start up local chapters too. Now, we have more than 15 cities around the world that have started or have shown interest in starting local chapters! I’m very excited to support the growth of these local chapters / hubs through my new role as a Regional Hubs Director for Western North America, Australia, and Asia.