1A: Getting to Zero: Reducing the carbon footprint of building construction (1.5 LU)

The Paris climate accord set a new target for global temperature rise: to keep global temperatures from rising above 2°C and avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change – the countries of the world came together and set a target of 1.5°C temperature rise. To meet that goal emissions need to peak by 2020 and fossil fuels be phased out by 2055. Given those goals, there are two critical things we need to consider when we evaluate carbon reduction strategies: The first is the amount of potential savings a strategy offers, and the second is the time frame of those savings.   The built environment – as an end user of fossil fuels, accounts for more emissions than any other sector – somewhere between 40% & 50% of global GHG emissions. The current gold standard for reducing emissions from buildings is to build new, zero net energy (ZNE) buildings – super efficient buildings powered by renewable energy sources. However, building those new, ZNE buildings will generate a lot of emissions.   This session will present efforts to track and reduce the emissions related to constructing buildings: the emissions ’embodied’ in making building materials and products.

Panel Lead

Kathrina Simonen (Kate) is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture and licensed as an architect and structural engineer. She joined the faculty at the University of Washington with over 15 years of professional practice experience bringing expertise in high performance building systems, seismic design and retrofitting, net-zero energy residential construction, prefabrication and collaborative practice. Her research is focused on environmental life cycle assessment (LCA), integrated practice and innovative construction materials and methods. She is founding director of the Carbon Leadership Forum, an industry-academic collaborative research effort focused on linking LCA to design and construction practice to advance low carbon construction.


Life Cycle Assessment for Low Carbon Construction project:  Embodied Carbon Benchmarks
Barbara Rodriguez, University of Washington

The Embodied Carbon Benchmark project is the first stage of the Life Cycle Assessment for Low Carbon Construction project, sponsored by Pankow Foundation, Skanska and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which will develop guidance for industry professionals looking to integrate carbon impact into life cycle based decision making of buildings. This project aims to establish reasonable benchmarks of the carbon emissions resulting from material manufacturing and construction (embodied carbon of buildings) and characterize the level and sources of uncertainty in our knowledge. The database includes the embodied carbon analysis of over 1,000 buildings enabling sorting performance based on parameters such as building use, total area, number of stories, among others. The process used to develop the database and the key findings will be presented along with an outline of the next steps needed to advance our understanding of and ability to reduce building embodied carbon

Time Value of Carbon
Erin McDade, Architecture 2030

The building sector is the world’s single largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), accounting for 30-40% of total global GHG emissions. To meet the targets set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement, global carbon emissions from the built environment must peak within the next 15 years and be fully phased out by 2050. Within the next 15 years, 900 billion square feet of new buildings/major renovations will be constructed globally. Although operational energy accounts for more of a building’s energy footprint over its entire life, between now and 2030, 80%-90% of the energy footprint of that enormous building area will be embodied energy, NOT operational energy. It is therefore crucial for us to design our buildings and building products to use as little embodied energy as possible and to target zero embodied carbon by 2050, while simultaneously understanding that carbon emitted now is more valuable than carbon emitted in 30+ years.

Carbon Footprint of Construction
Stacy H. Smedley, LEED BD+C, Living Future Accredited, Director of Sustainability, Skanska USA Building CEO, The SEED Collaborative

Skanska has been developing tools and data to monitor the carbon impact of their operations including the materials they build with, the equipment they use and the transportation of workers and goods. Stacy Smedley will provide a builder’s perspective on this experience developing tools to understand the carbon in construction of buildings and infrastructure describe their efforts to understand and reduce the embodied carbon in building construction. Case studies of several completed projects will be shared.

Speaker Bios

Barbara Rodriguez Droguett is a PhD student and graduate research assistant in the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. Her research is focused on whole building life cycle assessment and building materials supply chains.

Previously she was the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Center for Innovation, Research and Development of Building Structures and Materials at the Universidad de Chile. While there she led research and collaboration efforts between academia, industry and government in order to develop technically feasible and cost effective industrial ecology solutions for private and public organizations.



Erin McDade is a Program Manager for Architecture 2030. She brings to the organization a background in architecture, with a focus on sustainable building research and analysis. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Washington and worked at the Integrated Design Lab in Seattle before joining Architecture 2030. While with the Integrated Design Lab she helped to develop Targeting 100!, a tool for deep energy retrofits and aggressively sustainable new construction in the healthcare sector. During that time she also completed lighting and thermal analyses on the revolutionary Bullitt Center. She currently leads Architecture 2030’s Products Challenge, is one of the founding members and current chairs of the Embodied Carbon Network, and sits on the advisory board of the Carbon Leadership Forum. She is also leading the development and production of the AIA+2030 Online Series, an education series that helps design professionals create zero carbon.

Stacy H. Smedley’s resume includes the first LEED for Homes Platinum certified project in Washington and first project in the world certified under Living Building Version 2.0, the Bertschi School Living Science Building. At Skanska, Stacy is Director of Sustainability, leading sustainable initiatives and progressing sustainable construction methods.  She is co-founder and CEO of SEED Collaborative, creating environmentally restorative learning spaces that educate and inspire. Stacy is committed to engaging her community in sustainable design and has served as a member of the AIA National Materials Knowledge Working Group,  advisory board member for the Carbon Leadership Forum, founding member of Washington Businesses for Climate Action, Membership Chair for Cascadia Green Building Council, Regional Emerging Professionals Recruitment Chair for USGBC, Sustainable Curriculum Consultant, and 2013 Scholar in Residence for the National Association of Independent Schools. She works with K-12 and higher education facilities, offering workshops that engage students in applying sustainable principles to design spaces they can learn in and from. Stacy is a 2012 Living Building Hero.