It’s time the industry takes a look at its own CO2 contributions and take steps to cut emissions and embodied carbon. 40% of CO2 emissions in 2010 were caused by the building sector, through greenfield development, cement production and the burning of fossil fuels—that’s more than the CO2 emissions produced by transportation (34 percent) and industrial operations (21 percent). It can continue to be part of the problem or evolve and do its part to help mitigate the effects of global warming.
Some industry changes to adopt include:
- Choosing materials with lower embodied carbon and sourcing materials from suppliers that are transparent in regard to the makeup of their products.
- Better architecture designs ("The 2030 Challenge" - reducing energy consumption of the building below 70%). That 70 percent increases to 80 percent by the year 2020, 90 percent by 2025 and becomes carbon-neutral in 2030.
- Using waste and recycled materials.
- Extending the building’s life; a longer life span delays and reduces the embodied carbon associated with deconstruction, demolition, waste processing and rebuilding.
- Increased use of prefabricated elements and off-site manufacturing.
As the industry creates more energy-efficient buildings, it should also look to power them from renewable sources. According to CarbonBrief, around 22 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the production of goods that are consumed in another country. While the United States and many European countries have reduced their carbon emissions, those reductions are offset by increasing imports that contain high levels of embodied carbon.
Fortunately, there are a number of resources, including the Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) database that details the energy consumed to create more than 200 building materials. And since the state government is the largest purchaser of steel and concrete in California, proponents of the measure hope that it will help promote lower-carbon production practices.
The building and construction industry has the opportunity to evolve and play a significant role in whether the impact of climate change in the coming years will be manageable or disastrous.