How to Understand Embodied Carbon in 3 Minutes with Examples of What It Means for the Building Industry

How to Understand Embodied Carbon in 3 Minutes with Examples of What It Means for the Building Industry
Photo Courtesy: Brady Potts

We talk A LOT about embodied carbon and global warming impacts in the building industry. It’s not surprising why. The building industry is responsible for about 40% of Co2 emissions!

But what do all the acronyms and buzzwords mean?

Here’s a Quick Look at Embodied Carbon AKA Global Warming Potential (GWP)

Embodied Carbon can be read as total “greenhouse gas emissions” from manufacturing, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of building materials that go into a project.
They measure it in CO2e (e stands for emissions) produced. And it’s often expressed in kilograms or metric tons.

1 metric ton of CO2e is like…

  • Flying an entire plane from Boston to London
  • Driving 2,500 miles
  • 1 U.S. person’s monthly environmental impact

So what can we do to reduce the building industry’s footprint? 

Enter Mass Timber.

If you haven’t heard of it – Mass Timber is a group of engineered wood products made from normal dimensional lumber, but combined to create very large structural columns, beams, floors and walls. 

It’s just as strong as concrete and steel –  the biggest GWP contributors , but lighter, cleaner, quieter and faster to build with. 

Mass Timber is reducing demand for concrete and steel in large buildings. It simultaneously reduces the built environment’s impact on our world. Here’s how.

A cubic meter of concrete produces about 1/2 a metric ton of Co2 emissions

A roughly 18’x8’x5″ slab = about 1.2 cubic meters, so lets call it 1/2 metric ton of CO2e to keep the math simple.

Assuming you needed 50 such slabs for your building, its like…

  • Adding 25 transatlantic flights
  • Driving an extra 62,500 miles
  • 2Xing a humans monthly impact for a year

But what about Mass Timber? It depends on the type, producer and application, but the fundamentals are the same.

We looked at an Environmental Product Declaration or EPD (a verified way to measure their embodied carbon/GWP) for one producer’s cross laminated timber product (Sterling Structural).

It actually has a NEGATIVE 1.17 metric ton GWP level for the same sized panel. This is due to the nature of wood. Wood is 50% carbon by weight. A tree pulls Co2 from the atmosphere and stores it in the fiber. So, on a 1 for 1 swap – you’re reducing GWP by 3X.

Again, let’s assume your building needed 50 panels.

But this time you used Mass Timber.

That’s like saving…

  • 175 transatlantic flights
  • Taking cars off the road for 437,500 miles
  • Offsetting 1 person’s impact for 5 years

Boil that all down and you get this…

Swapping concrete for Mass Timber is about a 3X benefit to the environment.

Learn everything you could possibly want to know about Mass Timber so YOU can use it in your projects.

Workshops. The most important information to get started with mass timber so you can cut out more late nights at the office.

Masterminds. Learn from others & condense years of trial and error into hours.

​Networking.  Meet new and interesting people so you can build your network and have fun at the same time

Win more projects by learning how to work with Mass Timber. The industry is exploding – learn more about mass timber construction at our next conference in Denver. Register Here

Published by: Martin De Juan

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