Climate Impact November 14, 2022

Reducing carbon takes work, but new tools make it easier

Abstract representation of carbon reduction tools
Line drawing showing benefits of carbon reduction

The World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum project that at the current rate of global greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will cause more than just hotter temperatures in the next three decades: It will also cause harm to our health—and to business. In fact, research by global insurance firm Swiss Re suggests the world could lose 10% of its total economic value by 2050.

While some carbon emissions from building operations can be reduced over time through energy efficiencies and renewable energy sources, this addresses only one part of the problem. Once a building is completed, the carbon embedded in the building materials, products, and systems adds up, too. That’s right: A product’s material extraction, manufacturing, and even transport contribute staggering levels of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Today, new tools developed by leading think tanks, environmental scientists, architects, and designers are available to help create higher-performing environments. Here’s what you need to know about them—and how they can make carbon reduction quicker, easier, and cheaper.


What it is
The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool enables benchmarking, assessment, and reduction of supply chain emissions from construction materials. It’s offered by the environmental nonprofit Building Transparency.

EC3 also functions as a supply chain accountability tool: It incentivizes manufacturers to create Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which disclose their products’ environmental impacts.


How it Works
EC3 takes into account building materials from construction estimates and/or BIM models, as well as third-party verified EPDs. Design teams use the tool during project design and procurement to evaluate embodied carbon emissions and specify lower-carbon material options.


Why it’s Important
Not all EPDs look the same, and their data is often available only as printable PDF files, making product comparisons difficult.
With EC3, a centralized digital repository of EPDs makes apples-to-apples comparisons easy. And building teams can make smarter choices that reduce embodied carbon.


What it is
The Tally Climate Action Tool (tallyCAT) integrates Tally—an existing application that combines whole-building lifecycle impacts from BIM models and EC3’s EPD database—into one open-access resource.

Currently in development, tallyCAT will provide designers with embodied carbon information about building products at the earliest stages of a project.


How it Works
Because designers will use it to specify products, tallyCAT essentially rewards products with a lower-embodied carbon profile. This will drive down carbon created by building product manufacturing by as much as 30%.

tallyCAT will sync with common design software to help designers and contractors keep track of different materials and product options.


Why it’s Important
While Tally can estimate a whole building’s embodied carbon impacts, on its own it isn’t product-specific. And while EC3 is product-specific, it isn’t as accessible for use in design.

By integrating the two tools, designers can track carbon as the BIM model is being built. This enables architects to leverage lifecycle assessment data early in the design phase to ensure lower-carbon buildings for owners.

Ultimately, tallyCAT will promote better transparency, clean industry, and innovation.


What it is
The Simulation Platform for Energy-Efficient Design is a web- and cloud-based energy modeling tool developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. SPEED helps design teams evaluate the daylight, energy, and operational carbon performance of thousands of models, allowing them to prioritize higher-performing solutions.


How it Works
SPEED quickly runs thousands of energy, daylighting, and solar analyses in under 24 hours.

The advanced software simultaneously evaluates multiple building forms, HVAC strategies, and construction types based on energy use, daylight, views, first cost, utility cost, lifecycle cost, and carbon dioxide emission analyses.


Why it’s Important
Design teams make some of the biggest decisions about building program, massing, and orientation very early in the design process. Yet they are limited to ad hoc processes and tools that don’t clearly define performance metrics, alternative spaces, and decision rationales.

By generating a larger set of models and assessing their performance outcomes early in the design process, SPEED helps teams make informed decisions easily and effectively—ultimately mitigating risk and saving money.