Taking a Stance on Carbon Neutral Design
Discussion of carbon neutral design continues to make its way into the scope of engineering. There are many avenues for lowering carbon emissions that are being explored through various structural materials and fire and life safety 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, 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.
SE 2050 Commitment
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. This goal 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 our projects by the year 2050.
As a signatory of SE 2050, 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 conducting Life Cycle Assessments to track and reduce embodied carbon of our structural 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 day-to-day operations and discussions. Holmes and our sustainable industry partners must implement 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.
The impact of carbon reduction through the structural system has a tremendous impact, and more needs to be done through all consultants. Internally we work to reduce additional carbon contributing materials and systems through our fire and life safety approach. We work with clients to reduce or eliminate fire proofing and coatings, evaluate the necessity of smoke exhaust systems etc. When we can maintain the required level of safety but reduce the material use, we can contribute more to the holistic carbon neutral design.
We know we’re onto something when the engineering is pushed forward by all.