May 2020

The Meaning of Structure
By Kate Simonen, Director, Carbon Leadership Forum

We’re living through an extraordinary moment in human history, as though the 1918 flu epidemic, the 1929 market crash, and the 1963 March on Washington during the civil rights era were to occur simultaneously, but in the context of the global existential crisis of climate change. It’s worth asking how recent events -- including the COVID shutdown, the public murder of George Floyd, and global protests against that murder -- have influenced our awareness of the structures of power and privilege in which we live.

The disastrous impacts of climate change are already felt most deeply by poor and marginalized communities of color around the world. This means climate change is fundamentally an issue of social and racial justice. The construction industry historically has perpetuated inequality, racial discrimination, lack of opportunity for people of color as well as insensitivity to the impact of manufacturing, development, urban design, and construction on communities of color. But companies and organizations across the industry are beginning to embrace change, inspired by initiatives such as the NAACP’s Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector.

Many of us are indeed becoming painfully more aware of our roles in supporting structural inequality, and we live in a moment of exceptional emotional rawness. But what matters most is not how we feel but what we do. We at the Carbon Leadership Forum commit to listen, learn and evolve in order to do our part to build connections and community in order to redesign social structures and examine assumptions that have enabled both racial oppression and carbon pollution.

When we originally planned this month’s focus on structures we were thinking only of structural engineering rather than structural inequality. I hope you embrace learning about the range of structural engineering leadership happening in the building industry. We look forward to working with you to expand the Carbon Leadership Forum’s capacity to support holistic solutions that enable social justice, equity and decarbonization.

SE 2050 Challenge  
Frances Yang
Structural Engineer, Associate and Sustainability Consultant at Arup in San Francisco 
Michael Gryniuk
Structural Engineer, Associate and Project Manager at LeMessurier in Boston

The Challenge to Eliminate Embodied Carbon by 2050

In 2019, the Carbon Leadership Forum issued the SE 2050 Challenge:

“All structural engineers shall understand, reduce and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050.”

Recognizing that structural materials account for at least 50% of the carbon emitted in production, delivery, and installation of materials for new construction and the latest IPCC reports tell us that the building sector only has until 2050 to reach carbon neutrality, now more than ever, structural engineers members have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the building sector.

Read More


By The Numbers  
Typical Building Embodied Carbon
This study is the first stage of the LCA for Low Carbon Construction project. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the method used to quantify the carbon emissions that occur when extracting materials and making building products, otherwise known as ’embodied carbon’.
EC  Visualization Tool
This tool reports the embodied carbon per unit area for over 1,000 buildings included in the Embodied Carbon Benchmark Study. The research was funded by the Charles Pankow Foundation, Skanska USA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Member Impact  

Megan Stringer
Assoc. Principal, Sustainability, Holmes Structures

Dirk Kestner
Principal, Director of Sustainable Design, Walter P Moore


Kelsey Rose
Senior Design Engineer, MKA

Mark Webster
Senior Consulting Engineer, Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger

Find out what steps our members are doing to address embodied carbon
Learn More
Telling the CLF Story  

New CLF Website and Brand

You may have noticed that the CLF has a brand new look! A new logo, new website with new organization, navigation, fonts, and color, new monthly newsletters, new online CLF Community, new Youtube Channel, and so on. All this change was triggered last spring when the CLF commissioned an extensive survey of CLF community members, sponsors, and partners. Longtime CLF member Anne Banta conducted a feedback study, developed a report and recommendations, and then helped lead the plan's implementation. To learn about the development of the Carbon Leadership Forum’s new website and online CLF Community, along with the CLF's revised messages and visual identity...

Read the Report
IStructE Profile  

Institution of Structural Engineers Profiles Kate Simonen

Profile by Jackie Whitelaw

Kate Simonen has been promoting the cause of embodied carbon reduction in structures for the past decade through the Carbon Leadership Forum. Now the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK and the Structural Engineering Institute in the USA have put their weight behind initiatives to drive embodied carbon down to zero by 2050.

To get to zero embodied carbon in structures is not something that can happen overnight, Simonen cautions. ‘We can’t do it linearly, and we can’t say we won’t use steel and cement again. So the action to take now is to use material more efficiently, by basically doing your job really well.

‘If engineers can get architects to understand that the shape of a building, for instance, has an impact on the embodied carbon because of the amount or type of material needed, that is one big step. Then they need to work together to get a more materially efficient structure. Then we are on our way to zero embodied carbon.


Read the Full Profile


This month’s action checklist

Join the online CLF Community – focus groups, regional hubs, information, collaboration, research, resources, exploration, innovation.
Getting to Zero Forum, Mar 15-17 NYC - CALL FOR SPEAKERS – New Buildings Institute invites you to join industry experts to share your knowledge of zero energy and zero carbon buildings. The call closes on July 10.
Check out Carbon Leadership Forum News with comprehensive coverage of the movement to reduce embodied carbon.

About the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington

Who We Are

  • The Carbon Leadership Forum accelerates transformation of the building sector to radically reduce the embodied carbon in building materials and construction.
  • We pioneer research, create resources, foster cross-sector collaboration, and incubate member-led initiatives to bring embodied carbon emissions of buildings down to zero.
  • We are architects, engineers, contractors, material suppliers, building owners, and policymakers who care about the future and take bold steps to eliminate embodied carbon from buildings and infrastructure.


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