Growing concerns over the state of our environment have prompted construction industry leaders to evaluate their operations for opportunities to help reduce carbon emissions. Construction is one of the biggest industries on the planet, with construction materials accounting for an estimated 11% of global carbon emissions.
Procore wants to be at the forefront of helping construction build in a more sustainable way. One major announcement from Procore’s Spring 2022 Innovation Summit is its new partnership with Building Transparency’s Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, or EC3. The calculator will make it easier for contractors, designers, owners, and developers to track, identify, and report on their projects’ embodied carbon emissions from within the Procore platform.
“With the right tools, technology, and people to do the job, we can help create solutions across the industry,” said Sandra Benson, NIBS Board Member and Global Head of Industry Transformation, Procore.
For Stacy Smedley, Executive Director, Building Transparency & Senior Director of Sustainability, Skanska USA, the issue of reducing the amount of carbon produced by construction is one she’s studied intensely for years. At the Innovation Summit, Smedley shared some of the ways companies have been working to identify and reduce their biggest sources of embodied carbon.
What Is Embodied Carbon, and Why Is it a Problem?
Embodied carbon is a major contributing factor to construction’s pollution problem, representing around 10% of the industry’s carbon emissions. “Operational carbon” is produced through the ongoing use and maintenance of a completed building, but embodied carbon comes into play during construction itself. This includes emissions produced through processes like raw materials extraction, manufacturing, and transportation, and even during the demolition phase.
“Once they’re emitted, once we manufacture that product, those CO2 emissions are in the atmosphere, we can’t take them back. We can’t reduce them over the life of the building like we can operational energy consumption. So we have to address them at that time of design specification and procurement,” explained Smedley.
Skanska is one of the world’s largest contractors, and has set ambitious goals for its own carbon commitments. It’s working toward zero-carbon emissions by 2045, including its supply chain. That goal will not be achievable without addressing the embodied carbon component, Smedley notes.
“The part of the [emissions] pie that is associated with manufacturing, industrial materials, construction materials, and products that we build with is big enough where if we don’t solve this and really do get to zero, we won’t be meeting our climate targets. Climate change will happen,” said Smedley.
How Companies Are Using EC3 to Reduce Embodied Carbon
The first step towards a company reducing its embodied carbon through tracking it correctly using accurate data. Estimating and procurement are done through the lens of cost and schedule, and Smedley envisions a construction industry where embodied carbon becomes a third lens through which these routine processes are performed.
The EC3 tool includes a vast database of materials and suppliers, which enables contractors to visualize each project’s embodied carbon during the design phase through a helpful calculator and evaluate alternatives. Procore’s partnership with EC3 means Procore users will be able to see data around their embodied carbon production from directly within the platform.
Smedley points to what she calls “a constant trajectory of improvement” when it comes to quality and access to data, and says embedding this carbon data into the tools people are using every day makes it easier for them to make more informed decisions around embodied carbon.
Another major part of reducing embodied carbon comes from organizations and individuals sharing their learnings and best practices as they work toward their zero-emissions targets, which will benefit everyone.
“The more we can work together and talk to each other instead of competing when it comes to our approach, it’s going to move us there faster and hopefully get us to a place where we’re doing this at the speed we have to to meet our emissions targets,” Smedley said.
EC3 adds a new dimension of understanding about what goes into a building under construction. If carbon intensities of materials can be seen right alongside the cost per unit, contractors are able to make better informed decisions on both.
The calculator came about thanks to a Skanska grant program which Smedley applied for to explore the possibility of creating a digital carbon database. The idea quickly caught on, and nearly 50 partners joined Skanska to fund the tool’s development. It was released free in November 2019 and has grown to over 20,000 registered users.
“I’m just very excited that something that was a need for Skanska can now be solved for everyone. And we’re just excited to see the continued growth and adoption of the tool,” says Smedley.