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The Regional and Urban Design Committee (RUDC) aims to improve the quality of the regional and urban environment by promoting excellence in design, planning, and public policy in the built environment. This will be achieved through its member and public education, in concert with allied community and professional groups. Join us!

Buildings With Less Embodied Carbon (Part 2 of Sustainability in Construction)

  • 1.  Buildings With Less Embodied Carbon (Part 2 of Sustainability in Construction)

    Posted 13 days ago


    "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it." -President Obama
    How buildings contribute carbon emissions
    My last article here dealt with the roles of buildings in CO2 emissions and climate change in general. Because buildings contribute more than a third of global emissions, architects must design buildings to be less polluting, to be carbon neutral or even carbon absorbent.  And this isn't just a matter of  "how many miles per gallon" i.e. not just about the energy used for heating cooling or keeping the lights on but also about how much energy went into the building before it was ever used.  
    The current "lumber crisis" puts a spotlight on this area of concern: Building materials. Much what seemed to be granted, normal or a just a given becomes a question when energy and carbon matter.  
    What are the materials we commonly use to build, how are they made, where do they come from and how sustainable are they? What is their carbon footprint? 
    If we want to truly want to create carbon neutral buildings by 2030, we will see that the questions about materials are just as important as the energy usage after completion of a building. This is why this sequel addresses the materials and "embodied carbon".
    Source: Carbon Leadership Forum

    As noted in the first article, setting goals is easy. Achieving them is another story.  On our journey to more environmentally friendly buildings and the 2030 goals, it is "5 minutes before twelve". With just nine years to go, it is disheartening to see how far from our goals we still are, in the US and globally.
    The last article provided an overview of that progress and covered the carbon footprint from energy consumption during operation all the way from the placement of buildings and the resulting heat and cooling loads, the heating/cooling fuels and sources, the efficiency of HVAC equipment, the insulation of the building envelope, and the energy gains and losses from ventilation. All of that is "Operational Carbon".
    This article covers "Embodied Carbon": How much energy goes into the materials to make them and how much carbon is emitted in the process? A full "Life Cycle Analysis", also includes all the energy that goes into maintenance, how materials influence the health of building occupants, and, lastly,


    [Klaus] Philipsen FAIA
    Archplan Inc. Philipsen Architects
    Baltimore MD