Embodied carbon has been a hot topic in the architecture, construction, and engineering (AEC) world for close to a decade at this point. These past few years, the concept has steadily been gaining momentum, and while I maintain hope that we will one day live in a world where projects that consider embodied carbon are truly ubiquitous, for now, we are making progress, slowly but surely.
1. What requirements for embodied carbon are out there?
There are various requirements and policies related to reducing the amount of embodied carbon that gets used in the materials that make up the built environment. Guidelines vary from state to state, or even city to city, with various ways of measuring success and impact.
For example, Portland, Oregon has deconstruction policies in place, and Boulder, Colorado has material and building reuse requirements—this is a deconstruction policy, with the end goal of growing the reuse of structural materials in the City (which is part of a current pilot project). At national, state, and local levels, there are requirements on not exceeding a specific global warming potential (GWP) threshold based on material material type (i.e. Buy Clean, Marin County Concrete requirements, etc.).
2. How do I find out what my requirements are?
There are many tools and resources available that can help you understand the various regulations specific to your area. This tool from the Carbon Leadership Forum is very useful—scroll down the page and find the map; you can click on it to learn more about existing and proposed policies. There are also links for each policy below the map. If you don’t find any policy or regulation in your region, you could watch this short video explaining embodied carbon in building codes and how embodied carbon could be implemented in your region.
3. What’s coming down the pipeline?
More and more, policy makers are taking note of embodied carbon, and as discussed above, embodied carbon regulations are becoming increasingly common. We are seeing requirements regarding specific amounts of reductions, or requirements for building materials to meet GWP thresholds that soon enough might need to be implemented in all projects.
The City of Vancouver’s embodied carbon requirements are some of the most progressive with regards to whole building life cycle assessment (WBLCA). Starting in July 2023, updates to the Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL) will require embodied carbon calculation and reporting for all Part 3 buildings. This is notable as most other regulations only concern the procurement of materials.
4. How can I prepare?
Some ways you can prepare include researching the existing regulations in your area, researching potential changes to policy that may affect you, and beginning to look at ways to reduce embodied carbon in your projects, even if it is not currently a requirement. Talking with a building industry professional experienced in this area can also be very beneficial, and I and my team are always happy to help clients discuss their options.