Introducing the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) Tool

Introducing the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) Tool

In the Pacific Northwest, environmentalism is strong and sustainability is a priority. We’re privileged to live and work here and are encouraged by conscientious clients who think outside the box and regularly ask for product comparisons and creative solutions. Increasingly we’re responding to requests for embodied carbon studies on projects, and this week, we’re excited to share the release of the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool, a resource that empowers us to take an increased role in reducing the environmental impacts of our buildings.

Historically, teams have channeled this focus on sustainability into an emphasis on buildings’ operational carbon, aiming to lower the Energy Use Intensity (EUI), or energy use, over the next 50 to 75 years. This focus is understandable, since work on lowering a building’s operational carbon emissions was the easiest area to see considerable returns. Now, however, things are more balanced: not only have there been considerable improvements to operational energy performance over the past couple decades, but we’re excited to see a shift toward more emphasis on the carbon footprint of our structures as well.

The groundwork is set to continue to do better. The region’s energy codes and requirements are some of the toughest in the nation, and encouragingly, many projects regularly beat the established targets. The new version of LEED (LEED Version 4) and other similar programs now reward teams for collecting Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and beating industry averages for embodied carbon. Alternatives like mass timber and high-performance concrete are gaining traction. Owners and architects are asking tough questions and prioritizing sustainability, contributing to a growing movement around lowering carbon emissions from the built environment. An asset to that mission is the new Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool.

The EC3 Tool, Sustainable Choices Made Easier

Launched at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo this month, the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool is the result of a member-led initiative from the Carbon Leadership Forum. Put simply, the tool evaluates the embodied carbon associated with building materials.

Valuable across AEC disciplines, it’s available as a free, open-access web platform. The tool has two primary functions. The first is to gather EPDs from local manufacturers and organize them into one, user-friendly database. The second is to function as an actual calculator, using the database’s information to quickly and easily measure a project’s carbon footprint.

“Quickly” and “easily” are key to why AEC professionals are particularly intrigued by the tool. The database (which houses thousands of manufacturers and vendors) is searchable by material performance, location and carbon intensity, making it easy for a user to find a nearby source for whatever they need. In conjunction with the calculator function, which quickly presents a digital EPD, it’s never been easier to compare the carbon footprint of similar materials. The buy-in for making better building choices is drastically lower: In short, teams don’t need to spend a lot of money, time or energy to make better, more sustainable choices.

For even easier workflow, the EC3 tool is slated to integrate with Tally and Revit. The EC3 tool team is working toward an incorporation that would allow users to access the database and calculator from their dashboard. Real-time changes and EC3 tool outputs will display as plans are adjusted. Such a link between fundamental industry tools and the EC3 tool would make reaching a carbon baseline even more achievable.

Initially funded by Skanska and C Change Labs, the program now has nearly 50 collaborating companies. Coughlin Porter Lundeen is an Early Adopter Sponsor of the tool, and structural engineer Laura Lindeman is a part of the EC3 tool development team. “From our perspective, it’s exciting and important to see the prioritization of sustainable choices,” she says. “They’re no longer an afterthought or reserved for the overtly sustainable project team. Our hope is that this tool makes thinking beyond EUI mainstream, fitting sustainable decisions into every project cycle.”

Microsoft: A Pilot Program

We’ve already seen impressive results from the EC3 tool.

Never one to think small, Microsoft is not only a lead sponsor on the project but has opted to implement the tool in its three million square-foot Redmond campus modernization project (where 17 new buildings will house 2.5 million square feet of office space and half a million square feet of amenity space). Katie Ross, Microsoft’s senior sustainability program manager of Real Estate & Security, remarked positively on the experience, commenting that “Microsoft’s use of the tool enables us to take a data-driven approach to construction decisions around carbon. By bringing the EC3 tool into our process from the beginning, we are on track to reduce our embodied carbon footprint by a targeted 30 percent.”

Skanska, who is acting as general contractor for the project, agreed. According to Stacy Smedley, Director of Sustainability at Skanska, “The tool is helping us set the right reduction targets – and meet or exceed those targets.”

The EC3 tool is also already being incorporated to help projects earn green certifications with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The 2050 Challenge

The EC3 tool may also help engineers rise to the 2050 Challenge. Initiated by the Carbon Leadership Forum, the 2050 challenge invites structural engineers to work toward creating Zero Carbon buildings by year 2050.

By joining the Structural Engineers 2050 (SE 2050) Commitment Initiative, firms and individual structural engineers commit to providing measurement of progress towards that vision.

“We’re really pleased with the industry’s response to the 2050 Challenge. Firms and engineers are recognizing the urgency associated with reducing carbon emissions from the built environment. Whether it be committing to educate their teams, collecting data, or challenging their clients to think sustainably, so many in our industry are stepping up.” – Kate Simonen, Director, Carbon Leadership Forum

Similar to AIA’s 2030 Challenge, which challenges architects to create net zero operational energy buildings, the 2050 Challenge asks structural engineers to meet embodied carbon benchmarks and higher reduction targets. The initiative will build community and support around an important goal, arm the industry with a better understanding of material optimization, and inspire us all to reach embodied carbon goals.

Coughlin Porter Lundeen has accepted the challenge! Our team is actively looking for ways to measure the carbon footprint of our buildings and drive it down. We’re collaborating with our teams to find solutions, working together toward net zero buildings in both operations and construction. We’re excited about how tools like the EC3 tool will help us get there.

There are lots of ways to learn more and get involved. Find your next step!

  • Accept the Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge
    Commit to working toward the global vision of Zero Carbon buildings. More info
  • Explore the Carbon Leadership Forum’s research, resources and member-led initiatives
    The Carbon Leadership Forum is your hub for everything embodied carbon, including robust research, useful resources, how to connect with others and take action, and much more. Sign up for their regular communications and visit their EC3 tool resource page to download essential EC3 tool documents. More info
  • Join the Embodied Carbon Network, a community sponsored by the Carbon Leadership Forum 
    Here you can collaborate with others, attend webinars, access resources and be a part of the ongoing EC3 conversation. More info
  • Learn more about the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo
    The largest annual event for green building professionals worldwide. Mark your calendar for 2020’s conference, Nov. 3-6 in San Diego. Read the latest from the Greenbuild blog and visit the embodied carbon guide.
  • “Beyond our four walls: How Microsoft is accelerating sustainability progress” 
    Understand Microsoft’s stake. This blog post explores EC3 and beyond. More info
  • Talk to us!
    We’d be thrilled to talk embodied carbon with you! Send us a note.