What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Director of Sustainability, Ennead Architects
Often, on my daily bike commute along the length of Manhattan, I am reminded of the quote by Bill Gates, stating that the equivalent of one New York City will be built every month for the next 40 years (from 2020 to 2060) – and he means all five boroughs. That is a lot of construction material! What really made the weight of that statement hit home is when I attended the first Carbon Positive Summit in Chicago, where I gained full appreciation for how critical it is to rapidly reduce the embodied carbon in our built environment – for new cities, for renovated cities, and for more resilient cities.
As a former project architect, I know that when it comes to the ABC’s of embodied carbon in our work, (as measured by LCA’s), the practice of architecture has traditionally focused its design-performance attention on stages B1 (artifacts of Use) and B5 (artifacts of Refurbishment) – those are the easiest to see. Yet these two life-cycle stages are not included when it comes to best practices in measuring the embodied carbon resulting from our design decisions. Seeing the full carbon cycle and making it a design driver is our collective hurdle to overcome.
Over the past year at Ennead, we have updated our Climate Action Plan to directly address embodied carbon in our in-house education, our project workflows, and our regular reporting. We are signatory to AIA2030 and are aiming to consistently report total carbon, and we prioritize collaboration with design partners who have made similar commitments via MEP2040 and SE2050. We are establishing a consistent approach toward benchmarking and are prioritizing evaluation of physical scope (starting with structure & envelope) for cost-neutral opportunities. We are becoming familiar with new tools and calculators as we look for early hot-spots and we share lessons-learned for similar projects across our portfolio. And we look for opportunities to work with our clients to shift the market.
We owe a lot of gratitude to CLF, Architecture 2030, SDL, LFRT, and AIA, among many others, for helping our project teams find ways to make measurable impacts.
What are you and CLF doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Research Assistant, CLF
My journey in forest science began the first time I went backpacking in college. Each step up the seemingly never-ending hillside left me more out of breath, and the relief I felt when I finally reached the top was immeasurable. Once I put my pack down and finally looked around, soaking in the sun setting the trees dotting the mountain ridgeline on fire, my breath was taken away once again. The awe I felt in that moment drove me to spend the rest of the weekend exploring the landscape to the fullest extent, clambering up boulders to find new views, running my fingers over soft larch needles, tracking a pair of mountain goats and watching the baby explore her new world, much like I was exploring mine.
I left that mountainside with a new sense of purpose instilled in me, and instantly applied to the Environmental Sciences program at my university when I returned. Since that weekend, I have devoted my career to helping preserve natural resources by optimizing the way we use them.
In my personal thesis research for my Master’s program in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, I’m exploring the options for recycling mass timber panels after a building’s end of life, and the implications this has for mitigating climate change through carbon storage in buildings. This work is particularly exciting to me, since incorporating wood products into a circular economy can help relieve the pressure on forests to supply wood. I’m grateful that this work has led me to a research assistantship with the Carbon Leadership Forum, where I’m helping develop a digital library of resources containing a large range of topics related to building with mass timber.
Reducing embodied carbon emissions in buildings is a crucial piece of our strategy to halt climate change, and being a part of the dissemination of decarbonization research has been fulfilling and invigorating. And every time I find myself bogged down with the weight of the impending climate crisis, the pressures of graduate school or the strain of everyday responsibilities, I know I can find respite in returning to my roots in the forest, taking time to appreciate the simultaneously complex and simple beauty of nature.
What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Senior Vice President, Sustainability at Kilroy Realty
Since college I have been interested in how environmental protection and economic growth can be complementary vs opposing forces. During a study abroad program in Madagascar I lived with a family in a small village near a proposed national park and became interested in the trade-offs between local community access to the land & natural resources and the potential tourism revenue (and societal/ecological benefits) associated with protected land status. Over the last 20+ years of my career I have had the opportunity to explore solutions to complex climate change & sustainability challenges from both the NGO and private sector.
In my current role at Kilroy Realty Corporation my focus is on improving the sustainability performance of the built environment. Kilroy is a real estate owner and developer, with a portfolio of over 14 million square feet of office, multifamily, life science, and mixed-use properties in California, Washington, and Texas. Our sustainability efforts address a broad range of metrics including energy, carbon (operational & embodied), water, waste, social/community, supply chain, renewable energy procurement, and stakeholder engagement.
Improving the operational energy efficiency of existing and new buildings has been a long-time focus at Kilroy, and in recent years we’ve expanded our scope to include efforts to reduce embodied carbon as well. As a building owner and developer, we have a unique ability to influence procurement decisions about building & construction materials and MEP system design. At our new developments, we are working to incorporate carbon intensity of systems and materials into our building design and material specifications. At existing buildings, we are exploring opportunities to reduce embodied carbon in retrofits and tenant fit-outs.
I value the collaborative spirit in the sustainability community, and am glad to be partnering with so many smart and thoughtful people to accelerate progress toward deep decarbonization of the built environment.
What excites you most about what CLF is doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Prajin (Zing) Uttamchandani
Student assistant, CLF
I’m a student at the University of Washington currently seeking a degree in Architecture, with a focus on sustainability. Throughout my life, I’ve grown up under the menacing warnings of the climate crisis, which threatens to damage my future. Corresponding with my involvement with the Boy Scouts, my upbringing consisted of a number of volunteering projects, largely revolving around environmental restoration and preservation.
The culmination of the process prior to becoming an Eagle Scout resulted in me synthesizing and leading an environmental restoration project for an outdoor classroom and natural pond area at a local school. Watching the efforts of this project pay off only further spurred my dedication to sustainability and preserving the planet’s future. Combining that dedication to conservation with my passion for architecture resulted in my current degree, as well as my position here at the Carbon Leadership Forum.
Working at and learning about the CLF has changed the way that I view sustainable efforts, and reminded me of the depth of thought required for any of these efforts. Learning about and participating in the complex processes has demonstrated the dedication held by all of the organization’s members and community. Simply the organization’s goals are inspiring to me: a small group of people is creating guidelines, standards, and discussion spaces for thousands of people around the world. Though I’m still learning the complexities of the toolkits and material guidelines, I hope to contribute to the efforts of the Carbon Leadership Forum in any way that I can.