Strategies to Reduce Embodied Carbon Throughout the Design and Development Process

Published by firstgreen on

At Firstgreen Consulting, we believe in creating a more sustainable future. One way to achieve this is by reducing embodied carbon throughout the design and development process. We have mapped out six key phases of construction, each providing opportunities to lower embodied carbon emissions.

1. Predesign & Site Selection

Before designing a new building, consider reusing an existing building. Assessing soil types for foundation options is crucial, as some foundations use larger quantities of materials. Consider salvaging or reusing materials from a building that is to be deconstructed. Setting an embodied carbon budget for the project based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) calculations for similar buildings or case studies can be a good starting point.

2. Conceptual & Schematic Design

During the design phase, ensure the structural systems are compact, efficient, and not oversized. Design flexible and efficient spaces that allow for long-term changes in use. Plan for future disassembly and reuse to prolong the lifespan of materials. Consider the embodied carbon trade-offs related to architectural design decisions, such as massing, envelope systems, foundations, and landscaping.

3. Design Development & Construction Documents

Here, conducting an initial whole-building LCA (WBLCA) or performing an LCA for “hot spot” materials or assemblies with higher carbon intensities is key. Select building systems and assemblies that minimize embodied carbon. Assess the availability of local reused and locally sourced materials to decrease transport-related emissions.

4. Bidding & Procurement

In this phase, embody clear embodied carbon goals in all procurement language and set building system or material-specific goals. Request embodied carbon data, including Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), from all vendors. Include previous work, experience, and proposed solutions that address embodied carbon in any procurement selection criteria.

5. Construction

During construction, establish clear guidelines and targets to reduce construction waste. Hold contractors accountable for delivering the low-embodied-carbon design committed to in previous phases. Consider offering monetary performance bonuses for additional embodied carbon reductions identified and executed during the construction process.

6. Occupancy: Maintenance, Renovations & Tenant Fit-Outs

Finally, document the as-built embodied carbon content of the building and publish the data. Update WBLCA as needed. Debrief and apply lessons learned to future projects. Establish embodied carbon reduction targets for future renovations and tenant fit-outs.

These strategies, when implemented effectively, can drastically reduce the embodied carbon throughout the design and development process, fostering sustainable construction practices.

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