Elemental Streamlining

Concrete producers and AEC community program tool to measure embodied carbon in structures, slabs and finishes
IMAGE

EC3 tool Early Adopter and Pilot Partners include corporate owner and real estate development interests committed to streamlining embodied carbon in future projects. Among announced projects, the tool’s most ambitious proving ground will be the Microsoft Corp. headquarters campus redevelopment in Redmond, Wash. A ready mixed and precast concrete schedule stands to encompass hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of material subject to evaluation by EC3 tool-equipped architects and engineers. Initial ready mixed suppliers will include a joint venture of Seattle market leaders, Cadman and Stoneway Concrete.

 
The Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), a coalition of material suppliers, product manufacturers, plus architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) stakeholders, formally launched the public beta version of the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool late last year during the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Atlanta.

CLF incubated the technology in Seattle at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments in order to accelerate development and provide optimal industry collaboration. The open-access EC3 tool taps the industry’s first database of digitized Environmental Product Declarations (EPD). As a secure portal accessed at www.buildingtransparency.org, it allows benchmarking, assessment and reductions in embodied carbon; focuses on the upfront supply chain emissions of construction materials or products; and, suits architects, engineers, owners, contractors, suppliers, manufacturers and policy makers.

AEC interests need “to turn their attention to building materials and products, and seek information that will pave the way to reduce embodied carbon,” notes CLF Director and Professor Kate Simonen. “Recognizing this imperative, the Carbon Leadership Forum and nearly 50 industry leaders came together to offer their expertise, committed to a tool that was free to use and part of a growing open-access embodied carbon data ecosystem.”

Building and construction sectors have a vital role in limiting carbon, she adds, as they account for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Projections from the American Institute of Architects-aligned Architecture 2030 initiative paint the scale of future emissions: The world’s population will double the amount of enclosed floor space from 2020-2060, equivalent to building an entire New York City every month. Much of the new buildings’ environmental footprint will take the form of embodied carbon. Unlike operational carbon emissions, which can be reduced over time with energy-efficiency retrofits and the use of renewable power sources, CLF officials underscore how embodied carbon emissions are locked in place as soon as a project is completed.

The free EC3 tool allows for supply chain-specific analysis of embodied carbon data, utilizing the first searchable and sortable database of all United States and Canadian EPDs for concrete, steel, wood, glass, aluminum, insulation, gypsum, carpet and ceiling tiles. The technology is revolutionizing review of material or product environmental metrics by creating digital EPDs and translating all declarations into that form for viewing and analyzing project data. Practitioners have traditionally been confined to referencing EPDs formatted as a PDF. By enabling simple visualization of a project’s potential and realized embodied carbon impacts—along with the ability to see baselines and set reduction targets—EC3 tool users can accelerate the industry’s efforts to address embodied carbon on a global scale. The CLF coalition views the technology as an effective means of driving demand for low-carbon solutions and rewarding construction material or product suppliers and manufacturers investing in carbon-optimized solutions.

COLLABORATORS

Skanska USA, New York, and C Change Labs, Coquitlam, B.C., conceived the Embodied Carbon Calculator solution. Initial development was jointly funded by Skanska and Microsoft Corp., who determined that an open platform would provide maximum impact for the industry and society at large. CLF pursued the technology with strong leadership and additional financial support from Autodesk, Interface, MKA Foundation, and the Charles Pankow Foundation, lead sponsor and grant manager. Within a short time, more than 40 other partners came aboard, including the American Concrete Institute Foundation as an Association Partner.

ACI Foundation members and allied stakeholders have provided input on how to improve embodied carbon data usefulness in the concrete industry. For example, typical concrete EPDs only reference 28-day compressive strength. Advisors noted how the addition of 3-, 7- and 56-day strengths would make declarations of more value to AEC professionals—especially those concerned with mixes’ high early and long-term strength development characteristics.

IMAGE

C Change Labs programmers have built the EC3 tool to collect and crunch Environmental Product Declaration figures for materials and products according to MasterSpec designation. The tool organizes data so users can view options for optimizing embodied carbon in structural and lighter components or finishes.
IMAGE

Embodied Carbon Calculator users can search options in a given market for ready mixed concrete of target compressive strength levels. At the heart of the EC3 tool are carbon dioxide emissions figures gleaned from Environmental Product Declarations.

 

EC3 TOOL METHODOLOGY PARTNERS

To ensure that the methodology to evaluate material or product embodied carbon data reflects current practices and is broadly understood, the CLF established a class of EC3 tool Methodology Partners. Two of California’s top construction materials brands joined the effort: Central Concrete Supply Co., San Jose, and National Ready Mixed Concrete Co., Encino. As CLF sponsors, both have been engaged in the development of embodied carbon data collection and definition methods, and volunteered to test and weigh in on the EC3 tool’s material-specific functions.

Central Concrete and National Ready Mixed use environmental accounting and EPD-generating programs developed by Berkeley, Calif.-based Climate Earth, a CLF sponsor and EC3 tool Technology Partner. As tool programming began, sustainability and quality control staff offered rationale for Methodology Partner participation:

What motivated your company’s EC3 tool interest?

National: The tool is cutting-edge technology that pairs well with our recently implemented digital EPDs and Climate Earth’s CarbonClarity Suite. When combined, they fundamentally support the architectural and engineering community in designing today’s buildings through an environmentally sensitive process that was not possible in the past.

Central: Offering low carbon concrete design solutions is in Central Concrete’s DNA. As a ready mixed supplier, we have made strategic investments in technologies such as Climate Earth’s on-demand EPD Generator to provide transparency and sustainable solutions.

What value does your company see in Methodology Partner participation?

National: Being the first in southern California to incorporate EPD-backed mixes in the EC3 tool supports our position as being the best choice material supplier available. We believe in being not just a ready mixed supplier for our customers, but rather a valuable partner with a multitude of added resources.

Central: As the first ready-mixed concrete producer in the United States to publish EPDs, it was a natural fit. Our thousands of declarations provide a significant database for the EC3 tool, which in turn helps demonstrate the value of low embodied carbon concrete mixes and the significant sustainability contribution that concrete can make. The conversion to digitized EPDs will be a game changer for the industry.

Describe the process of being a Methodology Partner.

National: The decision to utilize digital EPDs made it possible for our declared mix designs to feed flawlessly into the EC3 tool. Acknowledging the need for a concrete supplier to become actively involved in the design process is something that was seldom considered, until now.

Central: The EC3 tool functions within normal operations without requiring any extra steps since it automatically sources the on-demand EPDs we routinely create. As a partner, we are able to stay knowledgeable on the tool’s development progress and contribute concrete material and usage expertise to help make the calculator more accurate and relevant. Being a Methodology Partner also gives us a better understanding of how the technology works so that we can be a better resource to EC3 tool users.

How has being a Methodology Partner informed your approach or understanding of embodied carbon and the role of the supply chain?

National: As a major ready mixed supplier, we have a vast array of mix designs and can work closely with design professionals seeking appropriate mixes for specific applications, while precisely measuring the impacts of embodied carbon.

Central: The EC3 tool has helped expand our understanding of construction projects overall in terms of the choices and considerations that contractors and designers are making. Concrete is a versatile material and each mix design is characterized by a variety of performance criteria, which makes it complicated to define simply on an EPD. The contractor’s placement methods, engineer’s structural performance requirements, and architect’s aesthetic concerns each have a role in defining mix design characteristics. It has been enlightening to work through how to incorporate all these considerations, along with sustainability criteria, in a simplified form.

How are you currently using the tool as a pilot Methodology Partner?

Central: We identify ways to improve reporting descriptions and transparency on EPDs, and are using the EC3 tool to better understand how designers and contractors view our products. This allows us to better communicate our products in terms that are relatable to project teams. We are also providing input with the goal of improving the accuracy of concrete material information and offering suggestions on how the EC3 tool can factor that input.

National: We are generating EPDs for newly created and existing mixes that immediately become visible in the EC3 tool. We are then able to consult with users to discuss specific mix performance, providing them the ability to accurately compare the embodied carbon in their decision-making process.

IMAGE

As one of the forerunners in publishing Environmental Product Declarations for ready mixed, Carbon Leadership Forum charter member Central Concrete Supply had a deep data library to inform Embodied Carbon Calculator technology development.
IMAGE

Los Angeles’ National Ready Mixed Concrete Co. is an EC3 tool Methodology Partner, alongside northern California peer Central Concrete Supply. The former has ramped up embodied carbon documentation by adopting the Climate Earth CarbonClarity Suite. Here, the Project Builder feature presents impacts from a range of mix designs for horizontal and vertical reinforced concrete conditions. Project Builder facilitates engineer and producer dialog to optimize concrete performance, workability, durability, and embodied carbon for an entire project.