October 24, 2016
Contributed by M.Arch candidate Stefanie Barrera
The College of Built Environments at the University of Washington offers all 3+year M. Arch students a paid internship at different local firms after completing the first year of the program. As a student of this program, I was matched this summer with the Carbon Leadership Forum at the UW Integrated Design Lab.
At the Carbon Leadership Forum, I worked alongside Associate Professor Kate Simonen and Ph.D. student Barbara Rodriguez Droguett on the Embodied Carbon Benchmark Project. The Embodied Carbon Benchmark Project looked to develop a database of existing building embodied carbon studies in order to discover trends and establish better ways to reduce uncertainties in data collection.
In the past, the building industry has focused on reducing carbon emissions by increasing energy efficiency. Although this means buildings produce less operational carbon, keeping track of, and reducing, embodied carbon emissions has not been a priority.
Embodied carbon refers to carbon dioxide emitted from extracting, manufacturing and transporting building materials. It is critical to think about the embodied carbon of a building because these are carbon emissions that occur before buildings are even occupied. Setting benchmarks for embodied carbon is a priority in order to come up with reduction strategies in the design and construction of buildings. For example, being aware of the embodied carbon of a building type could lead to more conscientious choices in construction materials and their origin.
This summer, the Embodied Carbon Benchmark Project team began developing a database with data from different types of buildings from all parts of the world. We first narrowed down the parameters used for our database such as building location, height, area, and LCA life cycle stages (cradle to gate, cradle to grave, etc). While some time was spent cleaning up data sent to the research team, some time was also spent looking for published studies to include in the database. Through this process we saw the need for a standard to be established in the collection of data.
Over the summer we were able to collect more than 1000 data points. The origin of the data and identity of the buildings were kept confidential. These data points were graphed by Barbara using Tableau for data analysis to identify trends, outliers and sources of uncertainty. A group of professionals with LCA expertise met to look at these findings and gave insight on future steps.
The work done this summer is the first step towards coming up with benchmarks for embodied carbon in buildings. With more research, these benchmarks will hopefully become standards for new projects, leading to a change in the way decisions are made as buildings are designed.
This project is currently led by Kate Simonen, Associate Professor, and is funded by The Charles Pankow Foundation. Findings will be presented at a workshop in September.