Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum
Brook is a research engineer at the Carbon Leadership Forum, where he investigates the life cycle of building materials — their manufacture, use, and end-of-life — and the environmental impacts that accompany those processes. He also studies and aims to improve the methodologies and data behind the measurement and communication of those environmental impacts. At the CLF, he has been particularly involved in supporting the EC3 tool and developing the CLF Material Baselines.
by Brook Waldman
I’ve been working for CLF in various temporary capacities since 2019, and now that I’m here as a permanent researcher, let me introduce myself.
I spent formative years working with youth as a teacher and wilderness leader. I taught high school math, which was partly about helping kids to get more comfortable with the abstract mathy-ness of algebra and trigonometry. (I can sing you a song about the quadratic formula.) And partly about teaching problem-solving principles and techniques, and helping kids to apply those techniques to solve new problems. And hopefully find some joy, or at least satisfaction, in the process.
I taught “Environmental Seminar” where a big part of the class was about discovering connections between the things in our everyday world and the systems and processes behind those things. Where does our food, our electricity, our stuff come from? And where does it go when we get rid of it? We visited a cattle farm, a coal-fired power plant, and the local dump. I had never heard of life cycle assessment then, but the seeds were there as my students and I drew cartoon diagrams on the board, trying to trace back our stuff to raw materials and energy sources.
I moved on to study architecture. I was zealous about resource efficiency and wanted to learn design as a tool for solving problems. During that time, I was formally introduced to LCA. (Thank you, Erin Moore at UO!). This was indeed a happy meeting – the beginning of my relationship with LCA. I’d found the technically rigorous version of those cartoon diagrams, where I got to follow the same curiosity about energy and production processes, overlaid with math and science and a focus on building materials, all with the goal of improving our impacts on the world around us.
My big research project as a graduate student was assessing the embodied vs operational carbon trade-offs to upgrade the design of a multi-family building to the ultra-efficient PassiveHouse standard. (You add a whole bunch of insulation, sealing tapes, and better windows, and change the mechanical system, and then you reap the benefits over time. What are the trade-offs? What’s the carbon payback period?) We had a perfect subject to study – real-life twin buildings that were being designed at the time, one to meet PassiveHouse. LCA was the tool to answer those tricky questions.
After a few years in architecture practice, learning more about materials and how buildings go together, from site plans to wall section details, I found a way to again focus on LCA. First through my own tiny consulting enterprise, and then at the Carbon Leadership Forum.
As a “data and methods” researcher at CLF, I’ve focused mostly on product-scale LCA. I’ve looked at a gazillion EPDs while supporting Building Transparency’s EC3 tool from before its launch, working on multiple iterations of the CLF Material Baselines, serving on PCR committees, and investigating the relationship of our data and methods work with the bigger-picture policy landscape. I get to learn from so many collaborators and I get to dig into and explore the data. And more importantly, like my teaching days, I get to serve as a kind of interpreter, helping make technical concepts and information more accessible and meaningful for people to use to make things better. That’s the hope anyway, and I’ll keep at it.