“All structural engineers shall understand, reduce and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050.”
Structural Materials and the Path to Zero
Recognizing that structural materials account for at least 50% of the carbon emitted in production, delivery, and installation of materials for new construction and the latest IPCC reports tell us that the building sector only has until 2050 to reach carbon neutrality, now more than ever, structural engineers members have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the building sector.
The SE 2050 Challenge, an initiative conceived of and developed by members of the Carbon Leadership Forum, was designed to ignite structural engineers and their firms to meet embodied carbon benchmarks and ambitious reduction goals, and be recognized for the significant role they can play towards these targets.
Committing to the Challenge
In the United States, a group of structural engineers are actively developing and managing a comprehensive program, the SE 2050 Commitment Program.
In development by the Sustainability Committee of the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), this group is focused on supporting its professional community in achieving net zero embodied carbon structural systems by 2050. Recognizing their exemplary work, in April of 2020 the SEI endorsed the group’s work and the SE 2050 Commitment is now an official program of the SEI. This support will exponentially increase awareness and engagement by engineers and their firms with the program.
In addition, the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) in the United Kingdom is championing an initiative to promote a “Structural Engineers Declaration”. Companies are responding across the UK, each making a declaration and commitment to achieve a Net Zero Carbon target.
United Kingdom Structural Engineers Declaration
In an open letter to its members, Martin Powell, Chief Executive of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), welcomed a UK Net Zero Carbon target and encouraged companies to change the way they work. He further asked companies across the UK to take the “Structural Engineers Declaration” and commit to actions.
History of the Structural Engineers Challenge
The SE 2050 Challenge exemplifies the role of the Carbon Leadership Forum, to use the collective action model to “inspire action by supporting and empowering its members to advance new ideas and approaches through impactful initiatives.” The SE Challenge and subsequent commitments and declarations were a result of the extraordinary, collective work and contributions from a global network of committed individuals. We wish to acknowledge their exceptional work in sharing the history of this large-scale effort.
History of the SE 2050 Challenge
In 2014, Catherine De Wolf initiated deQo (the database of embodied Quantity outputs) as part of her MIT PhD dissertation completed in 2017. This database included structural material quantities from professional engineers including Arup and Thornton Tomasetti (TT). Inspired from this collaboration, the team, including Duncan Cox (TT), Catherine De Wolf (MIT/EPFL), Amy Hattan (TT ) Kate Simonen (Carbon Leadership Forum/UW), Wil Srubar (U Colorado Boulder) and Frances Yang (Arup) conceived of an idea for a challenge to structural engineers to track and report structural material quantities and embodied carbon and brought the idea to the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) of which Arup and TT are sponsors.
In 2016, CLF established an interim core working group to develop a data-driven commitment for structural engineering firms to work towards zero embodied carbon buildings. Arup and TT participated as pilot partners and this became known as “SE 2050”. In Spring 2018, Frances Yang (Arup) and Wil Srubar (U Colorado) introduced the SE 2050 Challenge to the ASCE SEI Sustainability Committee proposing that ASCE/SEI challenge their members to make an SE/SEI 2050 commitment program to track, report and work to reduce embodied carbon from structural materials. Throughout the remainder of 2018, and into 2019, a larger group including a newly formed SE 2050 Working Group within the SEI Sustainability Committee, has advanced the development of the program to encourage broader adoption among structural engineering firms. This has resulted in the SE 2050 Commitment Program development, chaired by Michael Gryniuk (LeMessurier).
As an initiator of the challenge, the Carbon Leadership Forum is committed to working with the SE 2050 Commitment Program to promote, amplify and advance their goals and connect them to their thousands of industry sector members.
Evolution of the SE 2050 Challenge
CLF creates working group to develop a data-driven commitment for structural engineering firms to work towards zero embodied carbon buildings – 2016
CLF members propose the idea of a Challenge to ASCE SEI Sustainability Committee, which then forms new working group – Spring 2018
CLF issues formal SE2050 Challenge to SEI Board of Governors, which then endorses the Challenge – Fall 2019
SEI Board of Governors accepts the Challenge and makes the SE 2050 Commitment a formal SEI program – April 2020
Public launch of the Structural Engineers 2050 Commitment – November 2020
Many thanks to the following individuals who have contributed to the SE 2050 Initiative (listed alphabetically by first name):
- Amy Hattan (Thornton Tomasetti)
- Catherine De Wolf (EPFL)
- Christopher Horiuchi (SOM)
- Dirk Kestner (Walter P Moore)
- Duncan Cox (Thornton Tomasetti)
- Emily Lorenz (PCI)
- Erin McDade (Architecture 2030)
- Frances Yang (ARUP)
- Kate Simonen (University of Washington, Carbon Leadership Forum)
- Kelly Roberts (Walter P. Moore)
- Kelsey Price (Magnusson Klemencic Associates)
- Lauren Wingo (ARUP)
- Mark D. Webster (Simpson Gumpertz & Heger)
- Megan Stringer (Holmes Structures)
- Michael Gryniuk (LeMessurier)
- Teresa Vangeli (WSP)
- Wil Srubar (University of Colorado)
“We, the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), support the vision and ambition of the SE 2050 Challenge. We, as a leading structural engineering organization in the United States, recognize the need for coordinated action across our profession to achieve the globally stated goal of net zero carbon by 2050.”