Member Impact, November 2020

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

Julie Kriegh

Founder, Architect, and Director of Sustainability at Kriegh Architectural Studio | Design + Research
Research Scientist with the University of Washington Carbon Leadership Forum
Member of the Cloud Infrastructure Research Challenge a UW + UA Research Consortium

Julie KrieghMy awareness of climate change began with my undergraduate studies at Duke University. Dr. Orrin Pilkey, renown geologist in coastal ecology and our instructor at Duke’s marine laboratory, predicted the impacts of climate change, coastal construction practices and super storms like Hurricane Sandy.  His work demonstrated that how and where we build matters to both people and the planet. Today, I am an architect and principal of sustainability at Kriegh Architectural Studio | Design + Research, founded in 2000. In 2005, I decided to shift my firm from a generalist architectural design practice — commercial, multi-family, and single family residential—toward a focus on sustainable building practices.

I started with the 45 unit multi-family project that we were designing at the time. It was the first project under our new local ordinance, The Housing Design and Demonstration Project (HDDP), that I co-authored while serving on the Planning Commission for my community. To inspire transformation in the design and construction industries, the HDDP incentivized sustainable practices for site and building design with density bonuses. Our project, Vineyard Lane, was the first multi-family Built-Green project in our county and won the AARP design excellence award in 2008. Interestingly, the project was completed just as the economic recession occurred, yet this project was fully sold or leased within a five year time period at the height of the recession.

Based on the success of Vineyard Lane, I engaged in more training and became a Passive House Consultant with a focus on reducing the amount of energy a building used in operations. With each project we introduced systems such as façade grade cork siding, triple pane windows, air tight construction, heat recovery ventilators and thermal bridge free design. However, there seemed to be a discrepancy between our client’s initial aspirations and the motivations of the construction crews to build to new energy performance standards. In short order, the technical and cost hurdles dominated decision making resulting in what I call Passive House “light”.  After a few years,  I decided that I needed to understand why and how people might be motivated to act pro-environmentally and choose options that would be better for the health of people and the planet over construction cost and complexity.

I was accepted into the PhD in the Built Environments program at the University of Washington to pursue this research. My dissertation, Life Building Exchange: Investigating the Intersection of Pro-environmental Behavior, Place Meaning and High-performance Design was completed in 2018.  The work demonstrated that environmental values (altruistic, biospheric, egoistic, and hedonic) motivate our actions and inform our decisions on energy use. Furthermore, cues in the built environment (sustainable design features) and place meaning (environmental self-identity and place attachment) inspire us to take care of the places we inhabit promoting sustainable choices and pro-environmental behaviors (PEB) now and in the future. This work was awarded the Environmental Design and Research Association (EDRA) award for excellence in 2019.

In 2020, I learned about the UW Carbon Leadership Forum and was hired as a research scientist to investigate embodied carbon in the built environment. Together with my co-researchers, Chris Magwood and Wil Srubar, we have investigated a number of materials to reduce embodied carbon with immediate and near term substitutions for light industrial buildings. Importantly, our team identified materials in the early stages of R&D that are likely to promote biogenic carbon storing materials in the near future. We used a system-of-systems approach to address multiple variables that impact the use of carbon storing materials in buildings including: the relationship between rural and urban manufacturing and supply chains, education and training opportunities, and the use of EPD indicators and EC3 tools.  Currently, I am teaching the next generation of design professionals in a graduate level, interdisciplinary class in data center design at the UW with co-instructors, Dr. Chris Lee (Construction Management) and Dr. Jan Whittington (Urban Design and Planning). We have been awarded a gift from GOOGLE to support the research and documentation of the class outcomes in collaboration with the Universities of Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Stay tuned- my next endeavor is to link PEB research to CLT and Mass Timber multi-family construction!

Scott Henson

Co-founder, Drawdown Seattle; tech executive; climate activist

Most of my professional career is based in the world of high-tech creating hardware, software, and services to entertain and delight people through games, movies, and TV.  After some reflection, I made the decision to step away and dedicate my time and energy to addressing the climate crisis.  Shortly after, I was introduced to the Carbon Leadership Forum and was impressed with the mission, the leadership and the community.  I was honored to work with the CLF and many if its members on the launch of the public beta of the EC3 tool one year ago in November.  During that time, the potential of Embodied Carbon as a critical part of the larger movement to reverse the climate crisis by attaining “Drawdown” became clear.  As defined by the Project Drawdown team: “Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline.”  This is the point where we begin to stop further climate change the averting potentially catastrophic warming.

I also co-founded and lead the Seattle-based organization, Drawdown Seattle which brings people together through interactive workshops, introducing people to the solutions that the Project Drawdown team has measured, modelled and mapped.  In addition to reversing global warming, these solutions also have many co-benefits such as a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable world with a vibrant economy.  Participants are also guided through a systematic process to develop an “action portfolio” which scale from individual action to community-level to systems and structures-level impact.  The work of the Carbon Leadership Forum in concert with the building industry to address the contribution that buildings make during their creation, operation, and retrofitting are all vitally important to achieving Drawdown as quickly and equitably as possible.

With my wife Catherine, we are the proud parents of two lovely young women: Siena (20) and Autumn (17).  As a family we are committed to a more livable planet for everyone and focus our time and energy on environmental, social, and racial justice work.

Vicki Rybl

LCA Consultant, Sphera

Vicki RybiTo tackle the issue of embodied carbon, we need to start with data. Whether we are thinking about personal carbon footprints or pathways for decarbonization in the built environment, we should strive to make evidence-based decisions. I came to the field of life cycle assessment and embodied carbon through a career in MEP sustainability (energy modeling and managing LEED certifications), when I realized that I was missing a big part of the picture when it came to the environmental footprint of the buildings and spaces we were designing. As a consultant at Sphera, I take a holistic approach to life cycle assessment to identify areas of maximum impact in reducing carbon emissions.

My team at Sphera performs LCA work for our customers, analyzing their manufacturing operations to create environmental profiles for their products. We help companies identify dominant sources of emissions in their processes, and we play a big role in the development of EPDs for the building industry. Sphera is also the developer of the GaBi software and maintains background data for tools like Tally.

Having worked with the CLF during my Master’s degree at UW, I now stay engaged to learn more about how the AEC community uses environmental data, and how to best support embodied carbon reductions as an LCA practitioner.

Tien Peng

Vice President of Sustainability, Codes and Standards
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

In 2004 I was the lead designer for the largest home builder in Puget Sound. I was sitting in my office one day and thought perhaps the window cleaners were outside. In fact, it was an environmental group taking “direct action” by illegally belaying themselves off our roof and opening a banner calling attention to human rights and environmental issue of one $100 item in our project, sourced from a forest 2,000 miles away in a different country, with different sovereignty laws.

Despite receiving the local environmental award, it was then that I realized how much I didn’t know about the raw materials I was choosing to build our projects. Environmental risks are present throughout the lifecycle of a product and can have serious consequences.

In the time I have been with the concrete industry, I have been fortunate to work with forward thinking leaders and have taken a number of steps to better understand and improve our social and environmental responsibility throughout the supply chain.