It is safe to say we are in a climate crisis. Of the last 17 years, 16 have been the hottest on record. Sea level is expected to rise by as much as eight feet by the end of the century. And by 2050, as many as 140 million people will have been displaced by climate change. The time to act is now, and a major area of impact is buildings, which account for 40% of carbon emissions in the United States. Better envelopes, lighting, and mechanical systems are helping buildings become more efficient, which means an increasing proportion of carbon—up to 68% of a building’s lifetime emissions—is locked up in materials. This “embodied” carbon gets released during a material’s extraction, manufacture, transport, maintenance, and, eventually, disposal.
If our industry is to meet the 2030 Challenge of carbon neutrality by the close of the decade, we will need to reevaluate building materials and select low-carbon alternatives.
Figure 1: Courtesy of Faithful+Gould