Tackling the Carbon Problem Before the Buildings Get Built

Webcor to Pilot the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculate (EC3 Tool)

August 29, 2019


The focus of sustainability in construction has been, so far, on what happens after the building's occupants move in. That's not enough. We must prioritize reducing the impact associated with building the structure in the first place.

As a builder, Webcor -- like other contractors -- has to come to grips with the impact the structures we build have on the environment. The World Economic Forum's "Shaping the Future of Construction" report featured three scenarios, one of which it described as "A world with increasing conflicts over scarce resources and climate change." The envisioned future is one in which the industry adopts environmental-friendly construction methods and sustainable materials.

The industry cannot sit idly by and wait for somebody else to make these changes. In 2009, Webcor helped establish the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), a partnership of industry leaders that has resulted in multiple collective impact projects, including the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), of which Webcor is currently a pilot sponsor.

Helping Source Reduced-Carbon Materials

The EC3 tool makes it easy to grasp the embodied carbon of the structures we build and eases informed decision-making in the sourcing of materials that will reduce the impact of embodied carbon. According to the Green Building Council, buildings accounts for 39% of C02 emissions in the U.S. every year, more than any other country except China.

Embodied carbon is the combined greenhouse gas released through building materials' life cycle. This includes extraction, transport, manufacturing/processing, assembly, construction, and end-of-life. These activities will pump as much carbon into the atmosphere as all the operational activities building occupants will engage in -- such as using power and HVAC systems -- over the entire life of the building. All before the first occupants flips on a light switch for the first time. Embodied carbon is locked in place once construction is complete.

The building industry currently has a number of LCA tools. The EC3 tool is the first supply chain-specific embodied carbon accountability tool, designed to tap contractors' expertise in specification and procurement, which will help all of us make the informed case for better decisions about the materials we'll use to build.

Pilot First, Then Widespread Adoption

We expect the EC3 tool to play a vital role in creating a more sustainable built environment. Our Sustainability Department is collaborating with developers of the EC3 tool to ensure it addresses the needs of general contractors everywhere; we are piloting it on a residential tower we're currently building in San Francisco in order to assess its features and functionality and provide feedback to the team.

After the formal release date on November 19, 2019, we will roll EC3 out to all our projects in the future. I asked our Sustainability Director, Jenelle Shapiro, to share her thoughts on the tool with which she has been closely involved. She told me, "The EC3 tool is for our clients and for us to make more informed decisions by evaluating the carbon impact of multiple options -- insight we’ve never been able to provide before now. These sustainability wins don't always equate to more money, and we need to be able to illustrate these options and the value to all stakeholders when procuring material."

We at Webcor are proud to be playing a role in the introduction of this vitally important tool. It's not all we're doing in the carbon realm. I will share more of our efforts in future articles.