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Low-cost methods can have substantial impact on reducing embodied carbon

Codes and Standards

Low-cost methods can have substantial impact on reducing embodied carbon

Whole-building design, material substitution, and specification strategies can slash carbon by up to 46%.


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | September 3, 2021

Courtesy Pixabay

Low- and no-cost measures can significantly reduce embodied carbon in mid-rise commercial office, multifamily, and tilt-up-style buildings, according to Rocky Mountain Institute.

Whole-building design, material substitution, and specification strategies can chop embodied carbon by 24% to 46% in those building types at cost premiums of less than 1%, the Institute says. A recent report by the Institute focused on carbon embodied in structural elements, which accounts for about 80% of a structure’s embodied carbon.

Whole-building design can have the biggest impact on embodied carbon, the report says. Material substitution and specification can also result in substantial embodied carbon savings, especially when targeting carbon-intensive materials such as concrete and steel.

A building’s structure and substructure typically make up the largest sources of up-front embodied carbon—as much as 80%. But the relatively rapid renovation cycle of building interiors associated with tenancy and turnover can account for a similar percentage of emissions over the lifetime of a building.

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