Member Impact – July 2022

What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?

Alex Co

Sustainability Manager, WAP Sustainability

As an impressionable first-year college student who tried out many academic majors, I gravitated toward chemistry because it is ubiquitous—particles make up everything, everywhere, all at once. To study chemistry means to understand that everything around us has a deeper story of synthesis and production within it, and the more of that story we know and have data for, the better equipped we are to improve and optimize it. When I entered the world of green chemistry, the optimization pathways were laid out succinctly in the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry put forth by John Warner and Paul Anastas. I soon connected these principles to concepts of life cycle assessment and industrial ecology to form a broad awareness of how products are made less impactful.

But in the complex world of data, emissions, and reductions, it is the transformative through line of storytelling and strategic communication that cut through cognitive bias. We are imbued with an impulse to act on the climate crisis when we see ourselves in the narrative and can place our belonging and contribution within this critical effort. The story of embodied carbon and the work of the Carbon Leadership Forum is a prime example of translating data into action to help members of a global network find their unique contribution and bring others into the fold.

As a Sustainability Manager at WAP Sustainability, a consultancy that supports life cycle assessment (LCA) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) for manufacturers, I work with companies of all sizes to meet their sustainability objectives, but more importantly embed sustainability in their processes and people. I seek to unlock our clients’ capacities to make healthier products while reducing embodied carbon and understand the influence and potential that synergy wields. This is important in all sectors, but especially in the built environment that makes up such a significant contribution to global GHG emissions.

As a member of CLF Pittsburgh, what excites me in Western Pennsylvania and throughout the Commonwealth is the potential for mass timber, hemp and other bio-based material feed stocks to support important economic communities and innovate the potential for low embodied carbon building and construction materials.

Alex Co

“I soon connected these principles to concepts of life cycle assessment and industrial ecology to form a broad awareness of how products are made less impactful. But in the complex world of data, emissions, and reductions, it is the transformative through line of storytelling and strategic communication that cut through cognitive bias.”

What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?

Nabil Mansour

Associate Structural Engineer, DIALOG, Toronto, Canada
Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering Dept., BADR University in Cairo, Egypt

“I am passionate about design and believe that it can and should meaningfully improve the wellbeing of our communities and the environment we all share.”

This quote is from DIALOG, a design practice firm where I have been working as an associate structural engineer since 2010. The quote summarizes why I believe that everyone can make an impact to save our planet.

As a structural engineer, it has often been hard to find a way to contribute to sustainable design, as the majority of the decisions that impact energy conservation in buildings were the role of the architect and the mechanical and electrical engineers. However, through the work of CLF and others, I learned that embodied carbon will be responsible for almost half of the total new construction emissions between now and 2050. And I realized that as a structural engineer I can play a major role in reducing embodied carbon by reusing, retrofitting and reinforcing existing buildings to prepare these structures for their new tenants. And I was thrilled to be part of the team that can actively contribute to sustainable design.

As a fully-integrated design practice, DIALOG has the unique opportunity to profoundly address and reduce both the operational and embodied GHG emissions of our built environment. As such, DIALOG has signed up to the AIA-2030 and the SE-2050 commitments. This has encouraged us to develop Embodied Carbon Action Plans, which we are actively seeking to implement in all our projects.

I am currently teaching in the Civil Engineering department at BADR University in Cairo, Egypt; where I teach Structural Steel Design courses to 3rd and 4th year Civil and Architectural students. I have incorporated sustainable design elements in my courses, and challenge students to consider their choice of materials in design. In so doing, my aim is to instill in the new upcoming generation of architects and engineers the passion and need to consider our environment in all their designs. Additionally, as assistant professor, I am involved in creating a task force responsible for developing procedures to measure the Carbon Footprint of BADR University.

Nabil Mansour

“My aim is to instill in the new upcoming generation of architects and engineers the passion and need to consider our environment in all their designs.”

What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?

Sydney Armitage

Sustainability Lead at UMC, Working Group Ambassador for MEP2040

Growing up in Seattle, between my education and home life, my whole childhood was connected to nature and had an underlying focus on sustainable lifestyle. My mom owned a “green” house cleaning business with my aunt. They only used cleaning products that were healthier for people and the environment and reusable items such as rags, dusters, mop pads, etc. My mom instilled her ideals of minimizing waste, using natural/low impact products in my sister and I and greatly shaped who I am to this day.

Not surprisingly, I chose to attend the local “hippy” school, WWU, for its notable College of the Environment. When I began attending Western, like any 18-year-old, I was still a bit aimless. I knew my interests but wasn’t quite sure what my desired career was. About halfway into my freshman year, I overheard a classmate talking about the new Business and Sustainability major – a cross between the Business and Environmental schools. This sparked a new realization, there are more ways to make an impact than being part of the ever-channging flow of politics. Companies large and small can be persuaded to make a positive difference without the heavy hand of the law.

During my education and the past 4 years since graduating, there have been many moments that have validated my career path and importance of sustainability not solely relying on government regulation. The most memorable moment was when I was in my Environmental Econ class. The announcement came that the United States had just pulled out of the Paris Agreement. My professor scrapped our agenda for that day so we could discuss the news and difficulties that lie ahead for us. It soon came to light that many major companies based out of the US pledged their commitment with or without the backing of the US government. This moment in time brought a horrifying yet inspiring realization. My faith in those running and representing our country was falling but my faith in what people can accomplish when banding together strengthened.

After graduating, I searched for a career where I could make a positive impact across as many entities as I could in the community where I was raised. That’s when I found UMC, an ESCO and Mechanical Contracting firm. The built environment accounts for ~40% of energy consumed in the US and operation throughout the building’s lifecycle accounts for roughly 80-90% of total lifecycle energy emissions. So our designs and installations have a significant opportunity to provide an impact on consumed energy and environmental impacts if we focus on both sustainable materials as well as designing systems that prioritize efficiency.

We have started to take a deeper look at what we can control within our scopes of work and see that we have the opportunity to have a measurable impact on the environment and community. In UMC’s 102 years in business, sustainability has been a core offering and has recently been pushed to the forefront of our business. I have taken on the brand-new role of Sustainability Lead to create and drive these initiatives. Sustainability within MEP is still new and, frankly, behind in the overall green-construction movement. We are excited to be at the forefront and help pave the way for our industry. We are doing so through intentional partnerships and actions. One of the most influential partnerships we have joined recently is with MEP2040. I have volunteered to be an Ambassador connecting all the Working Groups, ensuring that this commitment is set up to best assist not just UMC, but all others in the MEP industry. Working together, we’ll have the ability to achieve net-zero carbon in our projects.

Sydney Armitage

“In our 102 years in business, sustainability has been a core offering and has recently been pushed to the forefront of our business. I have taken on the brand-new role of Sustainability Lead to create and drive these initiatives. Sustainability within MEP is still new and, frankly, behind in the overall green-construction movement. We are excited to be at the forefront and help pave the way for our industry.”

What are you and your company doing to help reduce embodied carbon emissions?

Katie Felver

Architect, Mahlum Architects, Portland

Just over ten years ago, the lake that provides public drinking water to my hometown succumbed to decades of contamination. In addition to that year’s extra-hot, dry summer, unmitigated fertilizer run-off, industrial drainage, and removal of natural shores and banks caused a series of toxic algae blooms that the community is still dealing with to this day.

Years before this tragedy, I had made the decision to pursue my love for buildings, studying architecture, sustainable design, material ecology, landfill waste diversion, and human health. I began to envision using my future career to combat climate change and inspire others, and yet it took this event in my hometown to tie it all together for me: every decision we make as designers and consumers has a positive or negative impact.

As an industry, we typically focus on the positives that a new construction project can bring, but unless we research and weigh all potential impacts, we will never know how we are contributing to someone else’s environmental disaster. Are we inadvertently causing algae blooms somewhere else? Or worse?

Today, I am excited to be an architect. Our industry has big challenges ahead of us, but also so much positive energy and new information coming to light every single day. Most of my design work is in K-12 schools, where the next generation of environmental stewards are learning directly from our buildings and sites, grasping how they fit into an ecosystem and what their role is. School facilitators are continually asking how buildings can teach kids about science, ecology, hydrology, energy and conservation, recycling, and other endless possibilities. Seeing the interest younger generations have in combatting climate change is inspiring and helps us push our work to live up to the true definition of “sustainable.”

I am so thankful I get to do this work alongside other building ecology and efficiency enthusiasts at Mahlum, through project work and best practices for WBLCA and low carbon design.  From 2018-2020 we completely re-wrote our Sustainability Action Plan with input from the entire office, and through that process we started asking ourselves, “What does a carbon-free practice look like?” Out of that came our embodied carbon neutral Portland Studio and a Carbon Initiative in 2021 which affirms the company’s commitment to reducing global emissions.

The goals of this initiative are to get us to a carbon neutral practice by 2030 through measuring design performance, actual building performance, site emissions, and embodied carbon on all projects. We also want to contribute to the greater effort through research, training, and advocacy. Some of that advocacy comes from getting to be involved in the CLF Portland Hub, where so many great minds come together to share information, stories, and ideas every month. It’s been a great way to stay inspired and keep up the good fight!

Katie Felver

“Most of my design work is in K-12 schools, where the next generation of environmental stewards are learning directly from our buildings and sites, grasping how they fit into an ecosystem and what their role is. School facilitators are continually asking how buildings can teach kids about science, ecology, hydrology, energy and conservation, recycling, and other endless possibilities.”

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