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December 5, 2023

Carbon Reflections: A Tipping Point?

by Andrew Himes
Director of Collective Impact, Carbon Leadership Forum

I’ve been wondering for years now when we (the North American building industry, to be specific) might reach a tipping point for awareness, capacity, and action to radically reduce embodied carbon emissions. We think of a tipping point as the time at which a change or an effect cannot be stopped. And, arguably, we’ve now arrived at—or maybe just passed—such a tipping point. For example, just five or six years ago it would have been difficult at the annual Greenbuild conference to find keynote speakers or panel members talking about embodied carbon. At GreenBuild 2023, however, embodied carbon was a central focus both on the show floor where companies promote their products, and in a multitude of panel discussions and keynote presentations.

All this talk, moreover, was accompanied by a slew of announcements about collaborative action to address embodied carbon. We saw the introduction of new or improved design tools, new industry initiatives, an effort to align data and reporting for low-carbon initiatives, new federal, state, and local policy requirements, and significant public funding for companies to create environmental product declarations (EPDs) for construction materials and building systems.

The Carbon Leadership Forum helped catalyze many of these announcements, conversations, and initiatives. In the past year alone, our growing staff of almost 20 researchers, policy consultants, project managers, and community builders has produced significant resources to support the radical reduction of embodied carbon, including Toolkits, Material Baselines, Case Studies, a landmark white paper on Advancing the LCA Ecosystem, and ongoing research like CLFs Whole Building LCA Benchmark Study.

You, however—the readers of this newsletter—are the true changemakers. You who invent new low-carbon materials, design low-carbon buildings, enact and execute low-carbon policies and company decarbonization plans, require and incentivize low-carbon materials for your projects. You CLF corporate sponsors, you members of the NGO/Government Roundtable on Embodied Carbon, you CLF funding partners, you leaders of CLF Regional Hubs. And so on.

The change we need is global and transformative. The world we envision is now being created by thousands of visionaries like you.

Brook Waldman

Andrew Himes is Director of Collective Impact at the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington, working on collective impact initiatives to reduce embodied carbon emissions in built environments, including building materials, design, construction, and retrofits. He hosts the NGO/Government Roundtable on Embodied Carbon, explores opportunities for collective action to reduce embodied carbon, and manages strategic communications for the CLF.

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