Build Better Podcast

A Paradigm Shift: Reducing Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment

by Emily Langner

Jeremy Gregory

On May 31, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be holding a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts titled Embodied Carbon in Buildings. The purpose of this very special event is for A/E/C industry professionals to come together to hear from “leading-edge practitioners and researchers as they investigate the impacts and opportunities of materials and products, and share strategies for realizing carbon-thoughtful design.”

According to Jeremy Gregory, executive director, MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, embodied carbon refers to the environmental impact associated with the construction of buildings and creating the materials for those buildings. On episode 6 of High-Profile’s Build Better Podcast, Anastasia welcomed Gregory and Jean Carroon, FAIA, principal, Goody Clancy, to talk about the challenges those in the A/E/C industry face in reducing their carbon footprint, and the approaches to tackling this monumental issue.

According to the World Resources Institute, Carroon says, “In the last 50 years, humanity has used more raw resources and created more waste than all previous humanity before,” and in the United States, she says, “it is estimated that almost half of our consumption might be directly related to buildings or materials.”

Jean Carroon

Carroon emphasizes that one of the most effective ways to reduce embodied carbon is to “place value on what already exists.” This means instead of tearing down and constructing new buildings, designers and builders should first consider starting with structures that have already been built.

Gregory says one important thing industry professionals should be considering with every project is “shifting the paradigm from just thinking about performance and cost to incorporating the sustainability component as well.” He adds that “getting together people from the architecture, engineering, and construction communities and having discussions early in the design process is very important in accomplishing sustainability goals.”

Gregory and Carroon also say there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, taking into account the varying materials that exist in different geographic regions, and say there may be no “miracle material.” This leaves a lot of room for discussion when tackling this complex issue. They both agree that a good place to start is by working with existing materials and trying to use fewer materials in general.

Carroon adds, “Architecture, design, and construction is a team sport.” She says the real breakthroughs will come when industry professionals are consistently applying a holistic approach to each project, creating an environment where “we get the most bang for our buck in our environmental expenses, and creating a healthier, more equitable world in Boston, in our region, and for the planet.”

Listen to episode 6 now!