Our clients are increasingly asking us how they can construct a carbon-neutral facility and accounting for the embodied carbon of construction must be part of the equation for any carbon-neutral project.
Embodied carbon is defined as the carbon footprint of a material, and is expressed in metric tons of CO2e – the global warming potential of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Determining the amount of embodied carbon considers the global warming potential of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are released within the material’s supply chain. This can include the extraction of raw materials from the ground, transport, refining, processing, assembly, in-use, and the end of a material’s life.
Three forces have come together to motivate development teams to address carbon:
— Consumer Preference: Multifamily tenants and corporate employees are driving faster adoption of high-impact carbon strategies. The consumer market is ready for businesses to take action on climate, and their expectations for climate response are intensifying faster than the commercial real estate industry is changing.
— Corporate Reporting: Investors are requiring transparent and science-based reporting on ESG (environmental, social, governance). Companies seeking investor dollars are expected to have a strong position on climate, including calculating embodied carbon.
— Entitlement Hurdles: Reviewers in the entitlements process now want to understand the building’s lifecycle impact, including embodied carbon.
To bring embodied carbon into the commercial real estate design and construction processes, we need to address this multi-dimensional and multi-actor challenge by retooling the integrated design and construction process. Project leaders must expand the depth of their sustainability bench and clarify the carbon accountability of each team and its members. Doing this is as good for business as it is for the environment – because increasingly those two tracks are mutually inclusive.
Here are four high-level steps that projects should take today to address embodied carbon in the sustainability program:
1. Expand the team upstream of the development PM and downstream of the GC: Development project managers focus on bringing a new asset online and typically are siloed from operations. Onboard the Operations person responsible for reporting carbon to the project stakeholder team. Similarly, the GC must onboard the trades to the new requirement for environmental product declarations on embodied carbon and material quantities needed for emission calculations.
2. Estimate the project’s embodied carbon in the design phase, validate in the construction phase: By including embodied carbon modeling early in the design phase, proactive design decisions can be made for the betterment of the project and the environment. It will also demonstrate to consumers that the interest in carbon is authentic, to entitlement committees that the embodied carbon strategy is thoughtful, and to investors that the ownership is transparent and committed.
3. Engage vendors through clear, supportive, and informative procurement strategies: One of the biggest challenges in the shift to carbon goals is that vendors are still catching up and struggle to know what to share with buyers or how to quantify their own carbon. We’ve worked with clients and their procurement teams to develop industry-specific guidance related to Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) so that all good vendors, even if they are new to the world of embodied carbon, have a chance to compete and win the work. We also recommend informational sessions as part of the bidding process. For us to get the embodied carbon issue right, we need to be supportive of our vendor communities and help them help us.
4. Track embodied carbon throughout the value chain: Two products may have the exact same metric tons of CO2e per unit of measure. But if one product is made locally and the other is imported internationally, the added emissions of the transport must be included to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Sophisticated multi-national clients are making this analysis standard practice. Be prepared to provide the next level of information for your aspirational projects by designating a carbon subject matter expert in your group.
By considering embodied carbon through a 360-degree view, it can accurately be estimated, managed, and tracked. The changes needed are complex – but not necessarily complicated.
My advice is to lean into this carbon issue sooner rather than later – and if you are already looking at operational carbon emissions, take the challenge further by going after embodied carbon. You aren’t doing any of this alone, and the rewards for being in front of carbon far outweigh the risks of being behind.
More from Author
Paladino | Jan 10, 2022
The future of regenerative building is performance-based
Why measuring performance results is so critical, but also easier said than done.
Paladino | May 12, 2021
Climate modeling for a resilient business and future
This post explores changes that developers and their teams need to make to their risk and resilience strategies by climate modeling for climate change.
Paladino | Apr 26, 2021
Building performance requirements are coming: Are you ready?
Building Performance Requirements are trending nationwide and are likely coming to a county near you.
Paladino | Feb 8, 2021
Six lessons learned from our first Fitwel Viral Response Module certification
The Fitwel Viral Response Module is one of several frameworks that real estate owners and operators can use to obtain third-party certification for their efforts ensuring their properties are ready for a safer and healthier return to work.
Paladino | Jan 14, 2021
Shift your energy to carbon
Now is the right and necessary time for the commercial real estate industry to shift its environmental strategy from just energy, a carbon contributor, to carbon itself.
Paladino | Nov 13, 2020
5 tips when designing for daylight
Daylight modeling is a tool to examine how daylight interacts with a building, and how that natural light behaves within interior spaces.
Paladino | Jul 16, 2020
COVID readiness: IWBI and USGBC seek to help businesses quantify risk
In an effort to address the risks of COVID-19 at the building scale, USGBC and IWBI have analyzed existing certification guidelines and drafted new, relevant content.
Paladino | Jun 5, 2020
3 strategies to improve the wellness of building systems and gain tenant trust
Three operational issues that must be prioritized for every building in order to achieve tenant trust are air quality/ventilation, relative humidity, and building commissioning.
Paladino | Apr 1, 2020
Green cleaning and the coronavirus
If your cleaning teams use bleach to disinfect buildings from Coronavirus, will you put your LEED certification at risk?