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NEWS
Researchers Set Benchmarks For Carbon Across Buildings' Life Cycle
August 4, 2017

With the impact of global warming one of the foremost topics of conversation within the scientific community worldwide, reducing humanity’s carbon footprint has increasingly become the latest environmental cause célèbre.

According to “information”: http://www.washington.edu/news/2017/04/20/toward-greener-construction-uw-professor-leads-group-setting-benchmarks-for-carbon-across-life-of-buildings/ from the University of Washington (UW), a UW-led research group, the Carbon Leadership Forum, has taken an important step toward measuring — and ultimately reducing — the global carbon footprint of building construction and long-term maintenance.

The Carbon Leadership Forum is a collaborative effort among academics and industry professionals based in the UW’s College of Built Environments that studies reducing carbon emissions over a building’s entire life cycle.

There is growing recognition in the building industry of the need to track carbon emissions across a building’s full life cycle, said Kate Simonen, architect, structural engineer and UW associate professor of architecture, who leads the carbon forum. But she said industry professionals need better information and guidance on how to implement low-carbon method in practice.

The forum took a step in this direction with the publication of the results of its Embodied Carbon Benchmark Study. “Embodied carbon” is the name for all carbon emissions that occur when extracting, manufacturing and installing building materials. The study employs a process called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to measure embodied carbon emissions in buildings.

The benchmark study provides data to building industry professionals so they can include study of embodied carbon into their decision making. It includes the largest known interactive database of building-embodied carbon with information on more than 1,000 buildings. The report also provides a foundation for the next stage of the project, the development of a Life Cycle Assessment Practice Guide, due by the end of 2017.

“Manufacturing materials and constructing buildings results in significant energy use and carbon impact,” said Prof. Simonen. “This research helps us answer questions such as: Is this a high (or low) carbon building? Which material choices or building systems lead to lower carbon solutions? How significant are ‘green’ design choices?”

To place construction-related carbon emissions in real-world perspective, Prof. Simonen noted that just the construction of a single “low embodied carbon” office building could save 33,000 tons in carbon emissions — “the emissions equivalent of avoiding driving a car around the Earth 3,000 times.”

This benchmarking stage follows earlier work by the Carbon Leadership Forum to create one of the first sets of “product category rules” for reporting the environmental footprint of concrete, enabling more accurate reporting of carbon emissions from various concrete products.

“In the design phase, our data enables architects and engineers to use carbon, and other environmental impacts, as a performance criteria in addition to common criteria such as cost and strength, when specifying and selecting concrete,” Prof. Simonen said.

Funding for the Embodied Carbon Benchmark Study, the first stage of the ongoing Low Carbon Construction project was provided by the Charles Pankow Foundation, Skanska USA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.


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