Carbon Drawdown Now! Achieving Climate Crisis Healing with Low-Rise Buildings (1 LU/HSW)

When:  Apr 5, 2021 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (ET)

Carbon drawdown now! Achieving climate crisis healing with low-rise buildings

(1 LU/HSW)

Hope is ignited when solutions can be seen clearly and positive action taken immediately. We can store atmospheric carbon in the buildings we create by the use of plant-based and other carbon-storing healthy materials, leading to carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and the reversal of climate change. By focusing on low-rise buildings, we create the opportunity for everyday tradespeople and residents, as well as architects, contractors, and engineers, to develop networks of information, materials, and trade in a democratic, cooperative and socially-just manner. The presenters will use case study, data, and material examples in this intermediate-level presentation.

Learning Objectives

  1. Participants will gain an understanding of how to differentiate between materials that are responsible for net carbon emissions and those that offer net carbon storage and gain insight into the global scale of embodied emissions and the potential to transform the built environment from a leading climate change problem into a key solution. 
  1. Participants will be able to identify the key sources of information for calculating embodied carbon emissions and carbon storage in materials, including Environmental Product Declarations, LCA software, carbon emission databases, and biogenic carbon databases. The language and terminology of emissions and storage will be well-understood. 
  1. Participants will be inspired by living examples of buildings that store large amounts of carbon while also meeting the other aspirational goals of the Living Building Challenge.
  1. Participants will be able to apply their new understanding of carbon storage materials to identify functional building components that use biogenic carbon-storing materials.

Jacob Racusin
Chris Magwood
Ace McArleton 

About this session

Hope is ignited when solutions can be seen clearly, and positive action is taken immediately. We will ignite and fuel hope by presenting the very real and immediate carbon drawdown reservoir that exists in constructed or renovated buildings - the result of actions taken by everyday homeowners, builders, engineers, and architects. Surprisingly, some of the biggest impact solutions are found in the multitude of low-rise buildings, both residential and public/commercial, that are built and the many more that are renovated each year in North America. Builders for Climate Action, founded in 2019, focuses on rapidly moving the building trades to apply the knowledge of embodied carbon and its impact on a building’s net emissions and to expand the use of carbon-storing materials for buildings. We can store atmospheric carbon in the buildings we create using plant-based and other carbon-storing healthy materials (the topic area for this presentation), leading to carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and the reversal of climate change. This sea-change has already begun and must expand rapidly if we are to reverse the damage done to the climate.

40% of global carbon emissions are the result of constructing buildings. This staggering figure locates a critical pivot point in the construction sector that we can and must transform immediately. There was a total of approximately 2.1 billion square feet (198 million m2) of residential construction built in the US in 2016. By our intentional actions, buildings can become the planet’s sixth carbon sink, and making such “drawdown buildings” is much less complicated than you might think. Builders for Climate Action is developing a carbon calculator tool for all to use, a specification/guidebook, cooperative supply chains for biogenic materials, and a carbon curriculum for trade education, among other initiatives. The democratic potential of making change at the level of low-rise buildings goes beyond simply making buildings that are draw-down reservoirs. It connects everyday tradespeople and residents to concepts like the planetary carbon cycle, and how we can and must come into positive interrelationship with soil, forests, grasslands, and agriculture to heal the damage we have done. The opportunity to develop networks of information, materials, and trade in a democratic, cooperative, and socially-just manner mirrors the positive interrelationship approach on all levels - people with people, people with the planet.

The presenters share diverse backgrounds. Representing both a cooperative design/build company and a sustainable building school, they are builders, designers, educators, and researchers, with decades of experience at the leading edge of high-performance natural building. They have been responsible for the design and construction of numerous carbon-storing buildings that are affordable, code-compliant, high-performance, and healthy. Sharing both extensive research into embodied and operational carbon emissions, as well as key case studies, they will ground the theory of carbon capture and storage in buildings with practical, real-world examples that prove that the ability to store upwards of 50 tons of CO2 in the materials of relatively small buildings is something that can and has been done. Unlike more traditional panels, this dynamic presenting team builds off each other’s strengths and enthusiasm, weaving voices and perspectives seamlessly throughout an energizing and engaging presentation.

To augment and support the theory, data, and case studies, the presenters will show examples of biogenic, carbon-storing materials, ranging from the easily accessible to the more cutting-edge. The presenters will share the knowledge they have developed for creating buildings that meet the highest goals of occupant health, affordability, appropriate sourcing, and carbon storage. The audience will be able to see how materials selected to meet these goals can be assembled into building components (suitable for walls, roofs, and floors) that are both simple and effective.