Member Impact – June 2021

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

Rachel Baker

Forest Program Director at Washington Environmental Council, Seattle, WA

Rachel Baker

My career has been motivated by the belief that forests are magnificent ecosystems, and provide irreplaceable benefits to humanity and the planet. Some of my earliest memories are of climbing trees in my backyard, or absorbing every piece of information I could find about tropical rainforests. I later trained as a forester, and have spent my career working on forest policy and sustainable development.

Given my focus on the natural world, I did not expect to find myself working on embodied carbon and the built environment. When I joined Washington Environmental Council (WEC) as the Forest Program Director, I realized that reducing embodied carbon in buildings, particularly through climate-smart wood, has the potential to promote both climate change mitigation and ecological forest management— if we can ensure wood originates from responsibly managed forests. Building awareness, collective action, and demand for climate-smart wood aligns with my program’s goals of conservation and ecological management of Washington’s forests.

At WEC, I work to promote demand and incentives for climate-smart wood at local, state, and national levels. At the local level, we engage with governments to elevate the role of climate-smart wood procurement in local climate action planning. At a state level in Washington, we work in coalition to advocate for polices that would establish public reporting on embodied carbon of structural building materials in state-funded construction. At a national level, WEC recently co-convened a climate-smart wood summit, together with CLF, Ecotrust, WWF, and Architecture 2030. The summit brought together a broad range of experts across forestry, environmental, architecture, and engineering, and construction sectors to identify challenges and solutions related to climate-smart wood.

I am hopeful that finding solutions to the challenge of embodied carbon will help address not only the climate crisis, but will also simultaneously support healthy forests and resilient communities.

Tommy Gibbons

Founder and COO of Hempitecture, manufacturer and distributor of bio-based building materials.

Tommy Gibbons

Our company, Hempitecture, is a public benefit corporation based in Ketchum, ID that makes beautiful, healthy homes part of our carbon reduction strategy.

Our secret ingredient is industrial hemp, a versatile carbon sequestering plant that can be turned into high-performing building products. HempWool® is one of the few building material choices that can significantly reduce a building’s embodied carbon and Hempitecture has serviced 250 building projects in the United States with our insulation. Later this year I will be moving to Knoxville, TN to work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to research and commercialize Hempitecture’s product roadmap of hemp-based building materials. Hempitecture is currently fundraising through equity crowdfunding on Wefunder to build the first hemp insulation production facility in the United States. You can invest directly in Hempitecture’s decarbonized building products vision through Wefunder.

After graduating from Princeton and starting my career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, I transitioned into working with mission-based startups. I joined Hempitecture to work with a high school classmate and friend, Mattie Mead. We started living together in a hempcrete tiny home in Bellingham, Washington while we built the largest hempcrete house in the United States at the time. Mattie has in-depth trade knowledge and experience working on job sites and I have experience in growing early stage companies. Together, we are building a company that we believe will supply the building materials for the next generations of Americans. Come find us on social media to follow our journey!

We joined the Carbon Leadership Forum to learn from a like-minded community working to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment. There’s no one company or product that will solve our industry, and the most important thing we can do is be open to solutions and lift one another up.

Marnese Jackson

Leadership Team of the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition. Environmental and Climate Justice activist, advocate, trainer and educator. Member of the State of Michigan Council on Climate Solutions. Former Midwest and Great Plain States Regional Organizer for the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. USCAN Board Member and East Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Environmental and Climate Justice chairperson of the NAACP Northern Oakland County Branch. 

Marnese Jackson

The mission of the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition is to inspire and educate Midwesterners to end new installations of fossil fuel equipment in residential and commercial buildings by 2030, and to achieve zero emissions from these buildings by 2050, with intentional and consistent integration of equity and labor justice across all facets of our work. Work Streams: Early Coalition partners have identified five initial priority workstreams: Equity, Public Policy, Market Transformation, Consumer Inspiration, and Research. The Coalition’s work is Equity First, incorporating equity concerns and prioritization into all other work streams. Prioritizing an Equity-first approach Midwest BDC will build regional capacity to enhance and support existing state and local advocates to develop a diverse building decarbonization coalition with equity as a priority focus. The Midwest BDC is aware of experiences around the country where various coalitions did not include equity, environmental justice, and frontline voices in coalition activities at the outset and then had difficulties fully involving such groups in subsequent policy initiatives.

The MWBDC  serves, supports, guides, develops, and educates its members across these five workstreams is inherently nimbler, faster, more strategically rational, and more cost-efficient at a regional scale than multiple organizations at a single state scale.

In 2019, no comprehensive plan existed to eliminate Midwestern building sector emissions, and no organization was doing regional strategic building decarbonization advocacy planning. The Midwest BDC was founded to support a non-coastal model of deep decarbonization to address the regional challenges of a cold climate and the regional opportunities of purple state politics.  Great progress in building electrification is occurring on the coasts. The requisite buckets of work-equity, policy development, research, market transformation, and consumer inspiration-are the same in the Midwest, but the starting points are different due to these cold climate and purple state political realities.

Market transformation programs cannot generally succeed at scale without supportive policy in place, but long-lead-time utility, contractor, and distributor engagements should begin now nonetheless to be in position to seize future opportunities resulting from policy wins.

Similarly, strategically targeted studies required to support policy development—such as those providing green jobs inspiration, heat pump data, and grid master planning vision—must advance now as well.

Cost-effective, comprehensive earned-media consumer inspiration campaigns focused on human health should also start now to begin to change the public discourse and consumer awareness relating to gas appliances.

Chris Erickson

Founder and CEO, Climate Earth Inc., a company that provides all digital EPD systems to serve the demand for low carbon construction materials and sustainable supply chains.

Chris Erickson

My passion is to make business radically more efficient and sustainable by placing environmental impact data at the fingertips of managers that can design new innovative low carbon products or processes.

Our focus at Climate Earth for reducing embodied emissions is based on two simple facts. The first is that you cannot reduce what you don’t measure. And the second is that the rate of reduction is a function of the speed and access to quality measurement.

Based on those two simple ideas we chose to focus on transforming the process for creating environmental product declarations (EPDs). When we started back in 2012 the process of EPD creation was incredibly cumbersome, slow, and costly. Realizing that concrete is 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that it is a nearly all natural material with potential for major reductions, we decided to place our initial focus on concrete.

Today our customers have used our automated system to generate over 31,000 EPDs from 300 plants in north America, and they have all become innovative market leaders in reducing embodied carbon.

So, what does this mean? A typical plant emits around 300,000 tonnes* of CO2/year. Innovative mix design puts a 20-30% reduction within easy reach with current technologies. Across 300 plants alone, a 20% reduction is 18,000,000 tonnes/year or the equivalent of around 14.5 million cars driven for 1 year.  And with a little more collaboration in the design build cycle and a greater focus on performance specifications even more is possible!

Some of our most innovative customers are voluntarily selling reduced carbon mixes, but with the technology and easy measurement in place, what is needed is more owners, architects and engineers requiring low carbon materials and the EPD data to back it up. With the addition of collaboration and outreach to innovative producers even greater reductions are very feasible.

* A “tonne” is equal to 1,000 kg.