Member Impact, October 2020

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

Theresa Blaine

US Environmental Protection Agency

theresa blaineMy interest in the environmental field was inspired by my outdoor environmental education experience as a young student. I’m particularly interested in waste prevention, waste reduction, reuse, and how our consumption of materials and products impacts the environment. I serve as an Environmental Protection Specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. I lead the Built Environment program which is one part of the EPA’s larger Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program.

SMM is a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles. It represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By looking at a product’s entire life cycle, we can find new opportunities to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs. I’ve spent the last 3+ years working to support SMM in the Built Environment in three main focus areas: deconstruction of buildings and reuse of building materials; embodied carbon in the built environment; and disaster debris management.

Some components of my role are to act as a convener in bringing partners together, participate in policy development, educate colleagues and partners on embodied carbon, and share related opportunities from our partners to those who are interested and able to affect change in their communities. Advancing SMM in the Built Environment has the potential to conserve resources, reduce waste, benefit local economies, enhance resiliency to natural and man-made disasters, and minimize the environmental impacts of the materials we use.

Ryan Zizzo

Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer, Mantle314

ryan-zizzoI studied structural engineering to contribute to the creation of modern buildings and cities. I soon realized that our society and profession had mastered how to ensure the safety of building inhabitants, however the safety of our environment and long-term viability of our species through sustainable consumption of resources was a nut we had yet to crack.

After completing a Masters degree in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering with a focus on sustainable infrastructure, I soon became part of the green building revolution and contributed to some of North America’s most innovative green buildings for nearly a decade. Since then, I have been focused on helping the construction industry and policy makers understand, quantify, reduce, and offset the carbon associated with the built environment.

At Mantle314, we shine a light on climate-related risks and opportunities and advance business strategies to thrive. We help building owners and policy makers stay ahead of the climate curve that is upending and disrupting industries. Our interdisciplinary team of engineers, lawyers and financial professionals help our clients anticipate climate-related trends and adjust their businesses appropriately. For some clients that means providing educational seminars on embodied carbon and life cycle assessment, for others it means supporting net zero buildings through embodied carbon analysis to help identify strategies to reduce the project’s carbon footprint through smarter material procurement and helping them source carbon offsets for the emissions that remain. We also help governments and decisions-makers understand these issues and draft policies they can implement at their specific scale of influence, be it at the portfolio, municipal, or federal level. We are also supporting large organizations improve their climate-related governance structures and helping embed climate-smart decisions into their annual reports and financial disclosures, as guided by the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

It has been a pleasure to learn and collaborate with members of the CLF community through my role as Co-chair of the Policy Focus Group. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with CLF members to decarbonize the built environment!

Dalton Owens

University of Washington Class of 2021 (Senior), Majors: Community, Environment and Planning/ Political Science, Minors: Architecture/ Law Societies & Justice; Former CLF Intern; Roles: University of Washington Student Body Vice President, Venture General Contracting LLC Project Engineer Intern

dalton owensTo prepare myself for a career in the built environment, I have pursued a holistic educational process that exposes me to elements of building as well as societal structures and issues. I believe it is important for communities to evaluate and develop infrastructure sustainably. Building sustainably should be a requirement of all new construction. Our earth calls for immediate and drastic change from everyone, not just for wealthy populations.

My time spent working as an intern for the Carbon Leadership Forum sparked my interest in learning about sustainable building techniques and the importance of reducing embodied carbon to mitigate the impact of humans on the environment. To successfully meet global targets such as those set by the Paris Climate Agreement, we must consider the large role embodied carbon plays in the carbon footprint of any structure, with a holistic awareness of materials and their manufacturing process. Sustainable building starts with the thousands of materials necessary to complete the job; Solely focusing on green energy is not enough.

To further develop my understanding of sustainable building practices before entering the workforce, I intend to gain my LEED certification. I believe this professional certification will help affirm my credibility in understanding today’s standards in sustainable design and construction. I am also planning to attend a University of Washington “Green Building” study abroad program in Indonesia. This opportunity will offer me a unique perspective on the challenges of developing in a sustainable fashion with financial elements posing as limiting factors.

Victor Olgyay

Principal, Rocky Mountain Institute

victor olgyayRocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has a long-standing interest in the role of embodied carbon in buildings. Back in 2009 we released Green Footstep a tool to help designers report and balance greenhouse gas emissions from site development, construction, and operations. While some of the data sets are dated, Green Footstep remains an interesting way to integrate landscape carbon sequestration, renewable energy and other carbon investments into design decisions.

Recently RMI has launched a formal initiative to address embodied carbon that spans our Buildings and Industry practices. Our overall approach aligns with metrics aimed with keeping construction industries contribution to global warming below 1.5 degrees Centigrade. Specific areas of focus include the following:

  • Increasing the demand for low embodied carbon materials: We are working with large public sector purchasers (including the US Federal GSA) to adopt “Buy Clean” preferential purchasing programs to increase the market for these materials. The guidelines under development are designed to align with industry standards and metrics, be scalable for project type, and adoptable for both corporate and smaller State and municipal purchasing programs. RMI is partnering with CLF on this work.
  • Within the private sector, we are developing a series of solutions aimed at demonstrating the economic benefits of low embodied carbon design and application. This work is just beginning, and promises to reveal how low carbon design and materials can provide key market advantages. Our research is demonstrating the additional financial benefits to both providers and purchasers of these services; we are anticipating our initial work in this area to be released in early 2021.
  • Our Industry program is working to increase the supply of low embodied carbon materials. There are several active areas of work, including working with industrial material suppliers to align with the downstream demand, increasing the transparency of emissions associated with the manufacture of materials and developing a harmonized accounting of Scope 3 materials. In coordination with the growing number of industry standard EPDs, our industry program is encouraging manufactures to offer increasingly competitive low embodied carbon products.

That’s what we are up to at the moment, and we are eager to partner with other organizations that can help move these issues further and faster. We are all in this together.