The conversation in environmental circles continuously loops back to the construction industry, with widely accepted estimates that building materials and carbon release from existing structures contribute 40% of global emissions. Building Transparency, a nonprofit dedicated to driving awareness around the effects of embodied emissions and supporting action to limit them, has developed a free tool anyone can use to achieve carbon reduction goals.

Continue reading below
Our Featured Videos
A graph of concrete EPD searches per month.

Building Transparency’s premier service is called the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). It’s sponsored by big companies such as Microsoft, Skanska, Amazon, Salesforce and Interface, which are working toward their own net-zero and carbon-negative goals. In all, around 50 organizations have signed on to help launch the project.

Related: World Green Building Council fights for zero carbon

The approach to carbon reduction strategies at every level, from residential homes to multi-building developments, is to start with low carbon-emitting building materials and minimize construction waste. Through this process, businesses can make a dramatic impact by reducing the carbon footprint of their facilities, office buildings, manufacturing plants and retail stores. EC3 makes the process easier by helping companies set goals and reduce carbon through material selection and system evaluation. 

EPDs, environmental product declarations, measure the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifecycle. Building Transparency has collected information on tens of thousands of digitized EPDs to include in the database. The nearly 17,000 users of the free tool can easily pull up this information, allowing architects, owners, green building certification programs, policymakers, designers and building decision-makers a condensed and reliable comparison of their material options. 

“Building Transparency’s core mission is to provide the open access data and tools necessary to enable broad and swift action across the building industry in addressing embodied carbon’s role in climate change,” the company states on its website.

Building Transparency feels the EC3 tool is a contribution that will support the building and construction sector in their critical responsibility to lower carbon emissions. While there is a lot of chatter about creating a minimal site impact and focusing on energy efficiency, embodied carbon leaves a massive footprint, and it’s a relatively new topic to the conversation. Measuring this effect means measuring emissions produced by the sourcing and manufacturing of materials, supply chain, transport, installation, use and end-of-life disposal.

That’s a lot to consider, and sifting through the information is a daunting task. The EC3 tool not only puts all that information in one area, making the decision-making process easier, but also provides transparency in an industry being held accountable for its responsibility to the environment and the population. 

A graph of users by stated profession.

In addition to building and maintaining the EC3 database, Building Transparency provides education and the needed resources for decision-makers to take action with the information they acquire. With the EC3 tool in place, builders can quickly and reliably develop and implement plans for low carbon-emitting materials at every phase of projects. 

As the company says, “Building designers, construction companies and material suppliers can directly measure, compare and reduce the embodied carbon in specific new buildings. For architects and engineers, the tool provides a simple way to assess the total embodied carbon of their projects and identify opportunities for improvement based on their specification choices.” 

The material information goes beyond concrete, steel, wood, glass, aluminum and insulation used in construction to interior design elements such as carpet, gypsum wallboard and ceiling tiles to identify low-carbon solutions.

In addition to the EC3 and openEPD resources, Building Transparency has developed an app called Tally®, which according to the company is, “the first Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) app fully integrated into Autodesk® Revit®. The tool quantifies and analyzes carbon locked in building materials.”

Tally, originally developed by KieranTimberlake, was adopted by Building Transparency earlier this year to make the app more accessible to the entire building and construction industry. Tally adds up the environmental impacts of material selections in real-time, which can sway the project toward carbon-conserving choices during pivotal points in the design process.

A graph of concrete EPD searches per month.

Tally and EC3 work in conjunction, with the information generated in Tally importing directly into EC3. This puts these tools in one location to again support the goal of making planet-friendly decisions easier throughout the construction planning and building process. It works by allowing users to create a material profile that is then evaluated for its effect on land, air, and water systems. The user can create different material combinations and compare one design plan against another until they reach the optimal reduction in environmental impact. 

The company reports, “Tally offers a full spectrum of information at great speed and accuracy, as the materials list automatically updates throughout the design phase in real-time. The app generates clear and transparent data graphics, facilitating vital communication regarding design choices between various groups within a project team. This practice ensures that the intent of the Tally LCA is carried through to the completed project, empowering choices to, for instance, to reduce embodied carbon and bringing carbon accountability to the building material supply chain.”

+ Building Transparency 

Images via Building Transparency