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BSA News

Apr 19, 2023

The Future Of Concrete: How The BSA Advances Low-Carbon Concrete

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Photo by BSA Staff.

Hidden in the built environment’s impact on climate change is a less-talked-about phenomenon: greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of concrete.

When we think about the effect the built environment has on climate change, images of smoke clouds roaring out of factories or plants often come to mind—but hidden in that depiction is a less talked about phenomenon: embodied carbon. Embodied carbon is the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction, production, transportation, and disposal of the materials used in the building construction process. Of these materials, concrete stands out as a large contributor to climate impacts. In fact, the lifecycle of concrete is responsible for eight percent of all global carbon emissions—which is why members of the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA) formed a Knowledge Community to tackle issues related to the adoption of embodied carbon: The Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) Boston/Northeast Hub.

Various concrete mixing designs and formulas that emit less carbon have been developed by scientists, engineers, and suppliers. Many of these new formulas are already available in the market with potential for mass adoption in construction practice. However, the implementation of low-carbon concrete poses its own set of challenges. The network of entities that is required for the material sourcing, production, and use of concrete is vast and complex. Implementing a change in this process requires a coordinated effort across the system. The BSA is leveraging its convening power to connect members of the AEC community who are part of the concrete network to identify barriers and opportunities to implementing low-carbon concrete in the Boston area.

Recently, the BSA in partnership with CLF Boston/Northeast Hub was awarded a grant by the Jampart Charitable Trust to hire consulting experts—Barbra Batshalom of the Sustainable Performance Institute and Michelle Lambert from Lambert Sustainability—to facilitate a stakeholder engagement process. They will be developing surveys, and running focus groups and interdisciplinary workshops aimed at starting a conversation about how low-carbon concrete could be implemented in the region. This project aims to gather information; map an ecosystem of how the current concrete supply is developed, distributed, and used; and connect stakeholders who best understand this network and process. Implementing change within this already delicate practice will not be possible without representation from each affiliate of the concrete network.

“When it comes to the complexity of transformation across a supply chain, innovation can’t happen until you have a baseline to understand all the forces acting on the industry,” says Barbra. ”The tendency is for a lot of people to jump in with a lot of solutions and not spend enough time problem finding and understanding the broad scope of the issue.” The CLF Boston/Northeast Hub hopes that by convening architects, engineers, ready-mix concrete suppliers, contractors, developers, and property owners, they can start to identify ways to incorporate new low-carbon concrete technologies into Boston’s built environment. Focus groups of key stakeholders will convene this spring and these gatherings will lead to the development of interdisciplinary workshops for members of the concrete network, which will be held throughout the year.

The CLF Boston/Northeast Hub, which is part of the nationwide Carbon Leadership Forum, is a volunteer group made up of BSA members and others in the industry. Members of this BSA Knowledge Community are undertaking the embodied carbon work on top of their full-time jobs because they are passionate about reducing the negative impact the built environment is having on the planet. As Rachelle Ain AIA, co-chair of the CLF Boston/Northeast Hub, said, “Everyone’s busy, everyone has other professional jobs in the AEC industry, but they have a lot of passion about this and feel the sense of urgency. There’s a tremendous amount of grassroots energy to address this issue.”

Please reach out to Jenny Effron ([email protected]) if you would like to learn more about the workshops or get involved in the CLF Boston/Northeast Hub’s work on embodied carbon.