In downtown Houston, a leading developer’s new office tower breaks new ground on carbon emissions


Walking through Discovery Green Park, it’s hard to miss the rumbling sounds of equipment, the sight of red cranes reaching above the treeline, and the feeling of progress from the newly poured foundation of the new tower. downtown office building that rises across the street. What’s less visible, however, is the behind-the-scenes planning for the creation of 1550 on Green Skanska USA’s greenest office project in Texas.

This foundation, for example, uses concrete which greatly reduces the use of carbon-intensive cement. It is one of hundreds of more sustainable building materials that Skanska will use in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from building construction by 60%.

With 1550 on the Green, Skanska USA, the US subsidiary of a Swedish construction company, is helping to lead a national effort to get more real estate companies to tackle embodied carbon – or the carbon emissions produced during construction. extraction of raw materials, their transport to factories and the manufacture of construction products.

1550 on Green Skanska’s first project in Houston to use a free, open-source tool, called Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), to estimate and reduce embodied carbon in the future 28-story tower where contractors recently started at -above-ground construction.

Buildings account for 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. Reducing emissions related to real estate is therefore essential for companies and governments trying to meet certain emission reduction targets in order to slow climate change. For an average new building, the carbon that goes into making building materials is roughly equivalent to all the carbon related to heating, cooling and powering the building for 30 years, according to Skanska.

While property developers have focused for years on reducing emissions from building operations – think low-flow toilets and energy-efficient lighting – the concept of embodied carbon scrutiny does not only started gaining momentum in the last decade. Retrofitting existing buildings and reusing materials is seen as the best way to reduce embodied carbon, but developers are also looking to reduce embodied carbon emissions in the construction of new buildings.

“Embodied carbon turns out to be a huge slice of the pie [for reducing building emissions]. Skanska is a real leader in this area, and they’ve been kind of a pioneer in reducing the carbon embodied in their developments,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute, a think tank from Washington. Typically, embodied carbon makes up about half of a building’s overall emissions profile, Schantz added.

Skanska is not alone. Other companies, including Kilroy Realty of Los Angeles, Hudson Pacific Properties also of Los Angeles, Alexandria Real Estate of Pasadena, California, Brookfield Properties of New York and Lendlease of Sydney, are taking steps to reduce embodied carbon in their projects because more tenants are looking for buildings with a lower carbon footprint and governments are considering embodied carbon standards, Schantz said.

“It’s becoming more and more common with some of the more progressive property developers who are thinking ahead and planning for a future where they have to meet carbon reduction targets and a future where they expect local government sets embodied carbon reduction targets,” Schantz mentioned.

Launched in 2019, the EC3 tool draws on a growing database of over 80,000 building materials. It allows developers to see a breakdown of the carbon emissions that went into making the building material. Entrepreneurs can compare the carbon emissions of individual products by region to source the lowest-emitting product and create designs with lower emissions.

Nearly 20,000 professionals are registered to use the tool, said Stacy Smedley, who helped co-develop the EC3 tool with Skanska and now executive director of the nonprofit, Building Transparency, which runs the ‘tool.

Other embodied carbon tools are on the market, but EC3 provides a free, user-friendly resource for tracking individual product emissions based on third-party verified environmental data, officials and industry experts said.

The EC3 tool does not take into account the carbon emissions produced during the transport of materials from the factory to the construction site. And although the database is large and growing, it is not exhaustive. It has more data for suppliers in California and Washington state than for Texas, where suppliers are just starting to become more transparent about embodied carbon. The database, for example, includes several thousand cement products made in California plants, but less than 100 in Texas.

For 1550 on the Green, Skanska plans to use the EC3 tool to assess embodied carbon not only in the most carbon-intensive materials (concrete and rebar), but also in other products used throughout. of the project (including aluminum, roofing materials, carpets and ceiling tiles). The analysis will help the company to choose the least carbon emitting materials.

“With projects like 1550 on the Green and other Skanska-led projects in Texas, we’re really starting to move things forward by increasing supplier interest in [embodied carbon]and looking at how their product’s carbon footprint might compare to that of their competitors,” said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president of Skanska USA. “We’re excited…to bring more transparency.”,

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