The climate crisis requires an all-out effort to reduce energy use and related emissions. Buildings need to be a serious part of this effort. The construction industry alone accounts for 5% of global energy use and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Its emissions come mostly from the manufacture of building materials such as steel, cement, and glass. We need to reduce the carbon embodied in these materials—from their manufacture to their transport, use, and disposal. New building energy codes can be an effective way to accomplish this.
But such codes require a detailed understanding of embodied carbon, and our research reveals critical gaps in knowing how to track and quantify the carbon embodied in building materials, components, and whole-building designs. The largest gap exists at the whole-building level. No consensus exists on how to benchmark embodied carbon in entire buildings because we lack publicly accessible data. In addition, unlike Europe, the United States does not have a standard to assess embodied carbon in the built environment.
Our new study calls on policymakers to work with building and industrial stakeholders to close these knowledge gaps and seize the current window of opportunity to reduce embodied carbon. It notes increased government and consumer interest in low-carbon products as well as a push for new net-zero-energy and net-zero-carbon building codes. It recommends U.S. federal agencies (1) support the development of standards for assessing embodied carbon in buildings, and (2) work with the private sector on a roadmap to set targets for reducing embodied carbon.
“This study could form the basis for a significant building material contribution to climate change mitigation,” says Richard Ottinger, former member of Congress and dean emeritus at Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law. “It augments the pioneering work that ACEEE has done over many years in advocating energy efficiency as the most economic way to help address the global climate threat.”
Learn more in the ACEEE study, Knowledge Infrastructure: The Critical Path to Advance Embodied Carbon Building Codes (https://bit.ly/Path-Carbon-Buildings). This new research, co-authored by Dr. Nora Wang Esram of ACEEE and Ming Hu of the University of Maryland, also appears in a new journal article (https://bit.ly/Carbon-in-Building-Research) , “The Status of Embodied Carbon in Building Practice and Research in the United States: A Systematic Investigation.”
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit research organization, develops policies to reduce energy waste and combat climate change. Its independent analysis advances investments, programs, and behaviors that use energy more effectively and help build an equitable clean energy future. Learn more at aceee.org.
[Editors note]: In an earlier GET article this year there was a link to a wonderful girl scout-made youtube video about embodied carbon. It was great, I loved it and everyone I sent it to got a big kick out of it. We would like to recommend the very fun and informative projectof the Badgerland Girlscout council of Wisconsin. You can watch it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6XGYnsK30Y.