The places we consider home and workplace can, whether we know it or not, bear a big impact on the environment. Every building, including small houses, large warehouses and corporate high rises, releases carbon into the atmosphere by way of heating, cooling, lighting, and insulation systems.
Called operational carbon — or the carbon emissions produced from building operations — this well-known output has been modified through the years to reduce its environmental impact.
One major related problem not widely addressed is embodied carbon, which represents the footprint resulting from a building project; including the extraction, fabrication, transport and posting of building materials. While tools are offered to manage energy produced from building operations, no efficient method exists to measure and manage the carbon emissions of building projects.
Also overlooked is the issue of embodied carbon. Few people realise that emissions created by manufacturing construction materials contribute more than 11 percent of worldwide emissions. This is because embodied carbon processes are not visible to the building tenant.
What is visible are the natural disasters that become more and more damaging and “climate strikes” that make themselves heard around the world, telling us of the coming of the climate crisis. Government bodies, corporations and citizens must come together to answer the call of climate action. We must work together to address the issue of embodied carbon and its intrinsic challenges.
Worldwide construction multinationals like Skanska are taking action, and via a partnership with Microsoft, Magnusson Klemencic, the Carbon Leadership Forum and others. Skanska has created its Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator tool, aka the EC3 tool. This tool grants the user access to an open-source database of environmental product declarations (EPDs) referencing thousands of construction materials from industry suppliers, and depends on advanced, well-researched methodologies to boost the investigation of the carbon footprint left by frequently used building materials. The EC3 tool empowers workers in the construction value-chain to better measure the embodied carbon impact of any given project’s materials, thus facilitating more “carbon smart” choices.
Another helpful tool comes in the form of proptech startups, building projects designed to render construction more efficient, stronger and safer. Katerra, for example, is a technology-driven offsite construction firm; Versatile Natures is utilising machine learning and AI to enhance construction processes. Toggle is a startup that employs robotics and automation to build rebar for prefabricated concrete. Using modern tools and technologies like IoT, AI and robotics, these startups are revolutionising traditional construction practices for the 21st century.
The construction industry builds $1.3 trillion worth of structures annually, says the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) — but with 20th-century tools, rules and manual processes. This method comes at great expense to developers, sometimes resulting in building inefficiencies and design mistakes—along with on the job injuries and environmental impacts. By introducing advanced technology into construction practices, Katerra, Versatile Natures and Toggle are empowering the construction business to work more safely, sustainably and efficiently.
As more building industry leaders adapt scale innovations, we can meet and defeat the climate crisis.