Taking a Stance on Carbon Neutral Design
By Megan Stringer
Discussion of carbon neutral design continues to make its way into the scope of structural engineering. There are many avenues for lowering carbon emissions that are being explored through various structural materials and design systems but how do we begin a journey towards carbon neutrality?
The State of Carbon Neutral Design
In order to take steps in the right direction, we need to assess technologies we currently have access to. Mass timber is at the forefront of carbon conscious design and has increased in popularity considerably in the past five years. New building codes, increased visibility of the technology and cutting-edge design have allowed mass timber to be used for multi-story structures in a multitude of geographic locations. There have been impressive strides made regarding mass timber construction and there is still space for growth. Certain projects warrant the use of other building materials and in those cases we must look to alternative carbon conscious materials.
Low carbon design in concrete innovation is radically changing concrete design and contributing towards the goal of carbon neutrality.
Mixes containing different levels of cement and sequestered carbon work to maintain the structural integrity of the material while utilizing excess carbon from the environment and reducing the overall embodied carbon. Like mass timber, codes involving concrete design are working to catch up with growth in sequestering design technology. Marin County, with contributions from Holmes Structures, has recently developed and adopted the US’ first Low Carbon Concrete Code that will allow further growth in the widespread use of low carbon concrete design.
Many organizations are working to develop carbon conscious design, fabrication and construction methods, to move us closer to carbon neutrality. The AIA has established the standard of achieving net-zero emissions by the year 2030 for the architecture community, which has been matched by the American Society of Civil Engineering Structural Engineers Institute with the SE 2050 Commitment. In congruence with the AIA, the SE 2050 Commitment pushes engineers to get to net zero embodied carbon in their projects by the year 2050. As signatories on this commitment, Holmes is expanding its scope of education and awareness beyond our team, providing support to the commitment on all fronts. One approach Holmes is taking is through conducting Life Cycle Assessments on buildings to track and reduce embodied carbon of our designs. Net-zero embodied carbon is daunting and the industry must continue to expand and commit to our current carbon conscious technologies to maintain positive movement.
The journey to a net-zero future promises obstacles involving small victories along the way. Teams must maintain sight of the SE 2050 Commitment in their day-to-day operations and discussions, implementing the carbon conscious building materials we have in appropriate situations, while pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible. Complete carbon neutral design is a stepping stone that must be achieved to eventually begin reversing the effects of CO2 on the environment.
We know we’re onto something when the engineering becomes a thing of beauty.