Structural Engineers Combine to Share Learning, Resources, and Ambitious Decarbonization Goals
By Chris Jeseritz
Chris Jeseritz is a project manager at PCS Structural Solutions and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) Structural Engineering Institute’s (SEI) Sustainability Committee and the Structural Engineer’s (SE) 2050 Commitment Program. Email: email@example.com
The Structural Engineering Institute’s (SEI) Structural Engineering (SE) 2050 Commitment Program was officially launched to the public six months ago at Greenbuild 2020 in direct response to the Carbon Leadership Forum’s SE2050 Challenge for Structural Engineers. Since its inception, the Program’s goal is to provide an accessible sustainability program, for individual structural engineers and firms, with an accountable commitment strategy of active engagement on projects and sharing of information, all in the name of achieving net-zero carbon structures by 2050. Almost 40 firms across North America have officially joined the Program during the past six months, the embodied carbon database is nearing public release, and the SE 2050 Program will soon publish new resources and tools.
“As citizens of this planet, many of us are doing our best to reduce our personal carbon footprint to help combat climate change, and as practicing structural engineers, reducing embodied carbon in our designs is one of the biggest impacts we can make.”- KPFF Consulting Engineers
Between the Program’s launch in October 2020 till now, 39 firms have officially signed on to the SEI SE 2050 Commitment Program! This is putting the Program well on track to reach its goal of 50 committed firms by the end of 2021. Of the firms committed to the Program, approximately 75% have 200 employees or less, with three committed firms having one to ten people. The wide distribution of firm sizes illustrates that embodied carbon is a critical issue and is being addressed by firms of all sizes. Table 1 shows the distribution of firm sizes committed to the SEI SE 2050 Commitment Program.
Each firm committed to the Program is to assign an “embodied carbon reduction champion” as the point of contact for the SE 2050 Committee and Program. Other responsibilities of the champion include educating and advocating for embodied carbon reductions and ensuring the firm meets the yearly requirements of the Program. The state with the largest amount of “embodied carbon reduction champions” is California, with eight. The following states with the most champions are Washington with five and Massachusetts with four. One champion is located outside of North America. Figure 1 illustrates where and the amount of “embodied carbon reduction champions” are located in North America.
Of the 39 firms that have committed, three have submitted their first-ever Embodied Carbon Action Plan (ECAP). The ECAP is the next step in the commitment to the Program. Its purpose is to articulate how a firm will educate its staff, report, document reduction strategies, and advocate within the industry for and on embodied carbon. A recently launched tool is the simplified ECAP submission form which will allow firms to streamline the creation of their ECAP. All committed firms’ ECAP will be publicly available and updated yearly.
“The next wave of sustainable innovation in the A/E/C industry is gaining momentum. From the AIA 2030 Commitment to SE2050, supporting these goals and encouraging leaders in the industry to take action is incredibly exciting.” – LeMessurier
Another yearly task that SE 2050 committed firms are to complete is submitting embodied carbon measurements of projects’ structural systems to the SE 2050 database. The database recently reached a development milestone at the beginning of April 2021 and is tentatively planned to be released to the public this summer. The SEI SE 2050 Committee will publish a user guide and life-cycle assessment methodology document after the database’s release to aid individuals in calculating and reporting embodied carbon to the database.
“As we celebrate Earth Day and appreciate all that it provides for us, we are reminded of the importance of doing our part to create a more sustainable environment, and what better way than to commit to net zero embodied carbon in our structural systems.” – Forell | Elsesser Structural Engineers
The committee will be releasing additional resources to help firms pledge to the Program throughout the year. A highlight of some of the upcoming resources include:
- A section on the SE 2050 website educating what credits in green rating systems (USGBC LEED, Green Globes, Envision, etc.) are related to embodied carbon and structural engineering. This resource will help structural engineers learn and advocate for embodied carbon measuring and reduction credits depending on the green rating system a project is pursuing.
- Updating the Embodied Carbon Intensity Diagrams on the SE 2050 website. These updates will expand both the breadth and depth of different embodied carbon intensities associated with structural framing systems and bay layouts.
- Updating the Embodied Carbon Estimator (ECOM) on the SE 2050 website and additional resources. Updates to ECOM could include visual updates, expanded material and structural component fields, and a user option to input custom global warming potential data from a product-specific Environmental Product Declaration. The SEI SE 2050 Committee is also developing an ECOM guidance document and examples.
Since the inception of the SEI SE 2050 Commitment Program, the structural engineering community has shown interest and enthusiasm for the Program. The Program provides engineers a platform to become an integral piece of embodied carbon measurements and reduction strategies. Within the first six months, the Program has picked up major momentum. The SE 2050 Commitee is continually working to provide additional embodied carbon resources and Program improvements to meet this demand and enthusiasm and continue the momentum for the next six months and beyond!
“We recognize that structural engineers can have an impact on addressing climate change. We now have the tools we need and are excited for the opportunity to be directly involved with carbon reduction strategies that are quantifiable.” – PCS Structural Solutions
If your firm is interested in donating or joining the movement towards net-zero embodied carbon by 2050 please visit the SEI SE 2050 Program’s website: se2050.org to learn more. You are also invited to join the SEI SE 2050 Committee to help develop the Program and it’s resources.