What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?
Sustainable Engineering Director at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Our team is working with others to craft the embodied carbon strategies for the firm and work on some of the highest profile projects – from one of the first whole life carbon commercial buildings in the US, to a net zero city that is planned for another millennium.
On the hobby side, I chair the ASHRAE Task Force on Building Decarbonization, Embodied Carbon (LCA) work group. Like ASHRAE 90.1, there is an opportunity to craft a similar standard for the embodied carbon. In the Sustainable Leaders Peer Network MEP Embodied Carbon Team, we drafted an open letter to the MEP equipment manufacturers and worked with them to provide embodied carbon information.
In the early days of President Biden’s administration, a team of us representing over 130 AEC firms authored a letter to the White House, requesting among other things, “…Adopt the Carbon Leadership Forum average embodied carbon baseline as the minimum standard for building products.” Currently, a team of kindred spirits is starting “MEP 2040” – like “SE 2050”, but with 2030 as operating, and 2040 as the holistic carbon neutral dates. Also, I just recently participated in the City of Chicago Building Decarbonization Work Group to achieve net zero for the city. Living in the Midwest, my current interest is in developing bio-based habitats harvested from regenerative farms, so they can be low embodied carbon, organic, and probiotic.
Dr. Kanwal Sujit
Founding Director, an All-Women Start-Up: TerraLive Envirotech Pvt Ltd, Providing green building consultancy, tech-platforms, materials and technology solutions to reduce carbon footprint in built structures.
Coming from a research background in Physics, my skills in mathematical modelling & computation motivated me to create tech platforms for energy modelling of the buildings in early 1990s. Then I started my journey as a building physicist and sustainability consultant in green buildings sector where I work as a resource person to Architects, Consultants, & Contractors to reduce the carbon footprint, facilitate green ratings (GRIHA, LEED, IGBC, ECBC, RESET) by helping with energy baselines & forecasting, renewable energy assessment, energy efficiency strategies, IAQ, and water and waste management by maintaining an up-to-date understanding of the trends & influences of sustainable design, construction, new materials & technology available locally and globally.
As a Core Committee member of Indian Green Building Council, Bengaluru Chapter, I have facilitated national level programs on low carbon footprint green buildings. As part of the Task Force and Advisory Group, I helped draft Green Rating by CII-IGBC for Affordable Housing, and I helped draft a US DOE-sponsored project, executed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory & CII-IGBC, the User Guide for Implementing Energy Conservation Building Code ECBC 2017 in Data Centers.
Since December, 2020, I have been co-hosting TEDCircle meetups to deliberate with industry experts on issues related to climate change and showcase people’s action on the ground across social & environmental sectors benefiting cities. I undertake educational programs and workshops pertaining to Green Building advocacy for decarbonising the built environment.
Then came our tryst with CLF! With our team, I co-founded Bengaluru Hub, where I wish to put in action my passion to bring embodied carbon awareness and actionable plans as a mainstream topic for the Indian building industry to address. I am currently working in close association with developers on project targeting net-zero campuses as part of the Re!magining Cities program.
Realizing how imperative is local procurement of materials, I have undertaken a blockchain-based project that aims to create an entire supply chain capable of providing LCA, EPDs, and embodied carbon information with transparency, immutability, and security.
Our latest research is on innovative, environment-friendly, solar-dried bricks that can replace traditional kiln bricks to reduce the embodied carbon content, water usage, low LCC, high recyclability; and on gypsum-based plaster that is very low on carbon footprint, needs no curing, and acts as a natural air purifier and thermal insulator.
My personal slogan: Innovate and Evolve!
Serial CleanTech entrepreneur, and CEO of CleanFiber, makers of innovative, cardboard-based cellulose insulation
At CleanFiber, we make high performance building insulation from recycled cardboard, and we help mitigate carbon emissions in three ways. First, we reduce the embodied carbon in buildings, because much less energy is required to produce cellulose insulation than fiberglass or foam. Moreover, our cellulose insulation actually stores carbon in the walls for decades, making cellulose a carbon-negative building material.
Secondly, we reduce the operating emissions of buildings by providing a higher R-value per inch than fiberglass.
Finally, we reduce methane emissions by recovering waste streams that would otherwise decompose in fields or landfills. This is particularly important for corrugated, because corrugated materials decomposing release unusually high levels of methane gas. Our product solves these methane emission issues, insulates buildings better, and reduced the carbon content of buildings every day!
My own interest in the environment and climate changes dates back to my time at MIT. I studied system dynamics there, which originally grew out of modeling electronic feedback loops, but I subsequently shifted to look at social systems. Jay Forrester was an early pioneer in system dynamics and highlighted several common dysfunctions in social systems. One of the biggest we discussed was the slow response of people to systems that change slowly over time – such as rising planetary temperatures.
I remained intrigued but was not sure how I could make a significant difference until I learned about wood pellets as a potential heating fuel in 2004-2005. I started WoodPellets.com in 2006 to bring renewable heating fuels to homeowners and then started CleanFiber in 2013. At the end of the day, I’m a big believer in what I call “cost effective CleanTech”. It is hard for a startup to compete in global markets with solar cells, but I’ve now founded two businesses that are delivering meaningful carbon benefits and are based on wood and biomass-based products!
Leader of Girl Scout Troops 1477 and 1952 in Madison, Wisconsin, executive producer of Concrete Climate Ideas, an educational video on embodied carbon in concrete.
As a Girl Scout leader, I believe kids inherently crave the chance to shape the future of their planet. I try to make real-world topics relevant and fun, help girls find ways to make a difference in their community, and support their efforts to learn life skills, civic engagement, STEM, and business topics in the process. Girl Scout Take Action projects, which are next-level service projects that aim for sustainable, lasting impact on an important issue, harness girls’ curiosity, energy, and optimism and empower them to be changemakers from an early age.
When the girls in our troop wanted to do a project about climate change, we were all surprised to learn that building materials like concrete are significant contributors. One of the best ways girls can make an impact is by raising public awareness, so we were searching for a topic that had actionable solutions but was less commonly known. Since this topic is relatively new, the girls hope to encourage dialogue within the building industry and with building stakeholders, starting with their recently-completed video summarizing ways to lower the embodied carbon of concrete.
Making the video was a fun learning experience in itself, but we hope to expand the project and engage with the building and concrete industries further. Thanks to help from the CLF in sharing our video, our troop is excited to be connecting with industry professionals locally and globally. Moving forward, we are open to any suggestions and ideas for how the girls can help raise awareness about embodied carbon and especially how they can encourage adoption of low-carbon concrete. Please reach out to us at GirlScoutsforGreenConcrete@gmail.com or @GS_Troop_1477. The girls would love to hear from you!