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The Move Toward Embodied Carbon Targets for Building Materials

A new open-source embodied carbon in construction tool aggregates EPDs for building products, helping engineers and others to make more informed sustainability decisions.
By Lisa Barnard
December 16, 2020
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Extreme weather events around the world are spurring more communities to become concerned about the growing consequences of climate change. This is driving an increased focus on reducing embodied carbon, which represents a large part of the emissions produced in the building industry. The carbon footprint of a building consists of the embodied carbon from construction and the energy the structure consumes once it’s completed. In the case of concrete, the embodied carbon is what is emitted by taking the raw materials out of the ground, processing them, and delivering them.

Skanska USA and C Change Labs teamed up to develop a solution that would enable the building industry to access carbon emissions data during material specifications and procurement. Funded by Skanska and Microsoft, the project led to the development of the first-of-its-kind database of online environmental product declarations (EPD) that provide transparency into embodied carbon impacts before a project is built.

This free, open-source Embodied Carbon in Construction (EC3) tool aggregates EPDs for all kinds of building products, helping engineers and others to make more informed decisions for improving sustainability. Instead of having to read through myriad EPDs in PDF format, users can visualize a project’s potential and realize embodied carbon impacts, including the ability to set reduction targets.

Using the EC3 tool

Accessible through Building Transparency’s website, the EC3 tool helps architects, engineers, building owners, contractors and others with:

  • Setting benchmarks for the amount of embodied carbon allowed in specified products;
  • Identifying and assessing the impacts of carbon reductions; and
  • Assessing the upfront supply chain emissions of the construction materials and project.

Ready-mix producers and contractors joined Building Transparency as EC3 material partners. The tool automatically sources the EPDs that the partner companies create. By streamlining the information gathering process, users can more easily make decisions about the materials they choose for each building project.

The drive for reducing carbon emissions

As more state agencies are requiring EPDs for new building materials, the EC3 tool is expected to be increasingly valuable for stakeholders across the construction lifecycle—from policymakers to project managers. Many large businesses such as Microsoft and Facebook are also working to track and reduce embodied carbon as they expand their presence.

Sustainable construction resources

Not sure how to get started with tracking embodied carbon on your next project? There are many resources to assist, including the following.

  • Embodied Carbon Network: Facilitates resource sharing and collaboration in supporting emission reduction goals.
  • Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF): Sponsored by the National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association, the CLF is working to lower and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in building materials.
  • American Institute of Architects: Shares specification trends and techniques, including 10 steps to reducing embodied carbon.
  • Structural Engineering Institute: Is coordinating member action to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.
  • U.S. Green Building Council: Developed the LEED rating system to promote environmentally sustainable design, construction, and operation of buildings and neighborhoods.
  • National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association: Connects ready-mix producers to resources, such as sustainability certifications, plant certification information and performance specs.
by Lisa Barnard
Lisa Barnard is Account Manager, Concrete Admixtures and VERIFI® In transit Concrete Management System at GCP Applied Technologies.

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