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Proposed actions can reduce carbon emissions from building materials outlined in BPS study

Blog Post
Rendered image of the NW corner of the Sandy Pine building with drawn images of diverse people occupying various spaces in and around the building. Image focuses on glass-walled entrance while also showcasing the balcony of living spaces above and detailed concrete with pyramid art below.
Study outlines ways to reduce embodied carbon in the built environment, urges Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and partners to act urgently to reduce the carbon impact of new construction with alternatives such as low carbon materials, adaptive reuse incentives, and construction waste policies.

A frequently overlooked issue in the climate crisis is new construction and the resulting impact of manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposing of building materials. Yet, these impacts, known as embodied carbon, account for nearly 15% of global emissions.

A new document, “Recommendations to Reduce Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment,” details recommendations that City staff and area partners can take to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings.

This document considers Portland’s climate goals and a perspective of the local construction and building materials industry. It also gathers ideas from a growing abundance of information about the urgency of this issue and technical guides on how to measure the carbon impact of buildings. The recommendations incorporate ideas from the top frameworks available for policy makers to reduce emissions.

Portland is already a national leader with programs that reduce the embodied carbon of building materials, such as the Low Carbon Concrete Initiative, which sets a threshold limit on the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of concrete mixes used in facilities and infrastructure. In addition, Portland’s Deconstruction Program was the first of its kind in the nation and preserves valuable building materials for reuse by requiring homes built before 1941 to be manually deconstructed instead of mechanically demolished.

These recommendations build on those successful programs and propose programs, code changes, and incentives that will push new construction in Portland to have minimal climate impact.

The issue of embodied carbon requires solutions at the scale of the construction industry. With regional collaborations, such as the Pacific Coast Collaborative Low Carbon Construction Task Force, Portland and its partners can signal to the construction industry and regional materials market that sustainable materials and low carbon construction methods are critical path for decarbonization.

The image on this page is a visualization of the Sandy Pine project. When complete, this will be Portland’s tallest mass timber building. Mass timber is a material and method of construction that replaces a typical concrete and steel structural system, which is high in embodied carbon, with large wood framing components, which are lower in embodied carbon. Advances in engineered wood products and building codes allow for lower embodied carbon materials and are an example of how to achieve a reduction of overall carbon emissions of new construction projects. Image credit: Ankrom Moisan.