The MEP 2040 Challenge:
“All systems engineers shall advocate for and achieve net zero carbon in their projects: operational carbon by 2030 and embodied carbon by 2040.”
The Challenge from the Carbon Leadership Forum
by Kate Simonen, Executive Director, Carbon Leadership Forum
We’re excited to announce a new initiative from CLF this month, in advance of the COP26 Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day in Glasgow, Scotland starting October 31.
The Challenge demands more than vague promises by building designers to do better. It requires a set of solid commitments to take specific actions, including reducing refrigerants, requesting data from manufacturers, and becoming active participants in industry-wide efforts to decarbonize building systems.
We’d like to send our welcome and congratulations to the many MEP design firms and MEP manufacturers that are already responding to this Challenge. Next, we’ll need more of you to join in and figure out how to implement this challenge at scale. It takes a movement to change a world!
The Commitment from Signatories
To address the impact of the built environment in climate change, systems engineers have a critical role to play in both operational and embodied carbon. While operational carbon has been a targeted with energy efficiency initiatives for some time, setting embodied carbon targets for systems is quite new.
By adopting this Commitment, each firm is confirming that it will:
Establish a company plan to reduce operational and embodied carbon across MEP systems on all projects, targeting zero by 2040. Measure and report progress against that plan annually.
Request low-GWP refrigerant availability when designing systems to reduce or eliminate GHG emissions from refrigerants.
Request Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) in project specifications for MEP system components.
Participate in a quarterly MEP 2040 Forum and a CLF Community discussion group to share lessons learned and contribute to a growing body of knowledge.
Evolution of the Challenge
Beginning in May, 2021, the MEP 2040 team met with CLF staff as an ongoing working group to develop a data-driven commitment for MEP engineering firms to work towards total life cycle decarbonization including embodied along with operational carbon. Recognizing the increased urgency of action, this team set 2040 as their target!
CLF Issues the Challenge
Why Does Embodied Carbon Matter for MEP?
Buildings generate the most global carbon emissions annually. Energy use makes up ~30% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, while embodied carbon adds up to ~10%. Architecture 2030 challenges architects to design more energy efficient buildings, but the impacts of the systems installed can be significant. Mechanical equipment, delivery, refrigerants, and refrigerant leaks are commonly excluded from life-cycle analysis studies, so we don’t know the full extent of their impacts.
With a continually shortening timeline and increasing necessity to cut emissions, understanding where there is opportunity to minimize the impacts of MEP systems is critical. Achieving zero carbon requires gaining knowledge, then catalyzing change in our industry.
Terms of Reference
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the industry methodology for assessing the environmental impacts (Global Warming Potential, Acidification Potential, Ozone Depletion Potential, etc) associated with the stages of the life cycle of commercial products. The first 3 stages (A1-A3), also known as cradle to gate, are generally the stages that a manufacturer can document via an Environmental Product Declaration: the extraction of raw materials (A1), transport to the manufacturer (A2) and the manufacturing of those products (A3).
Global Warming Potential (GWP)
What we as an AEC industry tend to refer to as Embodied Carbon is formally known as Global Warming Potential, measured in equivalent kilograms of carbon dioxide. This allows us to capture all of the compounds that contribute to global warming (CFCs, HCFCs, Methane) and relate them back to their relative potency in kgCO2e. For example, 1 kg of CFC-12 is equivalent to 10,200 kgCO2e.
Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
Environmental Product Declarations are independently verified documents that communicate the environmental impacts (global warming potential, acidification potential, ozone depletion potential, etc) of manufactured products.
MEP Life Cycle Assessment
Life Cycle Assessment scope is generally broken into scopes of: Enclosures, Foundations and Structures per certification (LEED, LBC and CLF) standards. However, it is important that we not limit ourselves to those areas of study, since the impact of MEP remains to be seen in full- considering that most manufacturers of MEP products have yet to produce Environmental Product Declarations. While we are busy asking our manufacturers for EPDs, we can measure the impact of low global warming potential refrigerants and start to understand the impact of our routing between equipment (pipes, ducts, conduit, cable tray.)
Steph Carlisle, Senior Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum
Louise Hamot, Global Lead of Life Cycle Research, Elementa Consulting
Andrew Himes, Director of Collective Impact, Carbon Leadership Forum
Kayleigh Houde, PE, Computational Community Leader, Buro Happold
Julie Janiski, Principal, Buro Happold
Kelsey Wotila, Architect, Research Fellow, EskewDumezRipple
William Paddock, Managing Director, WAP Sustainability Consulting
Rob Bolin, Senior Principal, Integral Group
Stefan Knust, Director of Sustainability, Ennead Architects
Yasemin Kologlu, Director, SOM
Luke Leung, Director, SOM
Adam McMillen, PE, Director of Sustainability, IMEG Corp
Kim Shinn, Principal, TLC Engineering
Kristy Walson, Principal, TLC Engineering
Many thanks for guidance from Kate Simonen, Carbon Leadership Forum
Join the Conversation
Quarterly MEP 2040 Forums
Signatories are invited to real-time meetings with your colleagues to help drive adoption and action on significant issues such as:
- Is there an existing organization that should/could administer MEP2040, including a reporting mechanism?
- What are appropriate targets for embodied carbon reductions in systems?
- How will offsets be considered as part of a carbon neutral target?
- If EPDs are not available, how will we have the data needed to assess systems’ material impact?
- What is feasible and/or a stretch in the marketplace, and how can the target shift over time?