Skanska Creates Tool for Calculating Embodied CO2 in Construction Materials

3 min read

The EC3 tool was initially conceived by Skanska and developed with C Change Labs. Later, Skanska and Microsoft jointly seed-funded it as an open-source platform.

Climate Week NYC has brought together some of the world’s largest companies in an event that aims to speed up the battle against the effects of climate change. Skanska is one of them and, in collaboration with the Carbon Leadership Forum and other partners in industry, has announced the creation of the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator tool, a new solution for calculating and evaluating carbon emissions embodied within various building materials.

READ ALSO: Skanska Builds for the Future

The EC3 tool was initially conceived by Skanska and developed with C Change Labs, and later was jointly seed-funded by Skanska and Microsoft as an open-source platform. Leadership and financial support are provided by the Charles Pankow Foundation, MKA Foundation, Autodesk, Interface and more than 30 other industry leaders through The Carbon Leadership Forum.

Embodied carbon vs. operational carbon

According to the independent non-profit Architecture 2030, two trillion square feet of buildings will be built or undergo a significant renovation between 2015 and 2050 worldwide. Over the 30-year lifecycle of a new building completed in 2019, about half of its carbon will come from embodied carbon—meaning the emissions associated with building construction, including extraction, transporting and manufacturing materials—and the other half from operational carbon. The difference between the two is that the latter will be emitted bit by bit every year over the life of a building, while all embodied carbon will have been emitted the day construction is completed.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 report signals that for global warming to be limited to 1.5 Celsius degrees, “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net-zero’ around 2050.” In other words, over the next 10 years, about 80 to 90 percent of the carbon emitted from new construction will be embodied carbon.

Seeking solutions

Data shows that materials used for construction are estimated to consume 75 percent of all new materials annually by volume, which determined Skanska—a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord—make an imperative goal of reducing the carbon emissions embodied in building materials.  

The company began investing in addressing the embodied carbon challenge in 2016, through its ongoing internal Innovation Grant program. Skanska received funds to research and establish embodied carbon benchmarks in partnership with the University of Washington’s Carbon Leadership Forum. Once benchmarks were set, work began on the tool itself.

Skanska announced the EC3 tool as a limited pilot and is an open-source database of construction material information based on environmental product declaration data, searchable by material performance requirements and design specifications, project location and global warming potential. Currently, this database comprises more than 16,000 materials, including concrete, steel and gypsum. 

According to Skanska, during the pilot period of the EC3 tool, participating development projects are realizing embodied carbon reductions of up to 30 percent. These reductions are achieved without significant additional financial impacts for the developers and, in most cases, are cost-neutral. The tool will be publicly released on Nov. 19, 2019, during the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Atlanta.

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