Reducing ‘Embodied Carbon’ to Cut Construction Costs, Climate Change

Reducing embodied carbon in the construction process can save developers money while mitigating climate change, said the Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.

Embodied carbon refers to emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting building materials as well as building disposal. It currently accounts for 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In some cases, embodied carbon can account for nearly half a building’s total carbon footprint over its lifetime due to carbon-intensive manufacturing processes and the fossil fuels used before materials even reach the construction site.

Addressing embodied carbon will need to be part of real estate’s climate mitigation strategy to achieve goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, the ULI Embodied Carbon in Buildings Materials for Real Estate report said.

“The real estate market has made fantastic progress on operational improvements to reduce carbon emissions,” said Billy Grayson, Executive Director of the ULI Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance. “Now, we’re looking at the other half of the built environment’s footprint: the embodied carbon in building materials.”

ULI studied the business case for addressing embodied carbon in buildings. It lists specific steps developers can take to reduce their environmental footprint in a cost-effective manner.

The report details steps constructors and developers can take to reduce their embodied carbon, including :

–Consider low-carbon structural materials such as green concrete, recycled steel or mass timber;

–Reduce the total materials in building design, which can result in lower costs;

–Repurpose used materials as much as possible;

–Specify lower-carbon materials–which often come at no added cost–when offering a request for proposal;

–Promote market awareness and adoption of reduced embodied carbon buildings.