Sustainability: What Structural Engineers Can Do Now

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United States

When considering the contribution of the building industry to global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s apparent there is a huge opportunity for structural engineers to help lower the sector’s carbon footprint. Currently, about 40% of global CO2 emissions are attributed to the building industry with 28% coming from operational carbon and 11% coming from embodied carbon.

Operational carbon pertains to the emissions created during the building’s daily operation and energy consumption while embodied carbon refers to the emissions associated with the creation of building materials and construction of the building. Operational emissions can be reduced over time with energy efficiency renovations and the use of renewable energy, but embodied carbon is locked into the atmosphere as soon as the building is built. Based on current building design standards, it takes approximately 30 years for the operational carbon produced by a building to equal the amount of embodied carbon emitted from the construction of the building. This means that the quickest way our industry can tackle global warming now is by targeting embodied carbon. Looking ahead – the world will build the equivalent of one New York City a month until 2060, so the decisions we make now in the construction of our buildings are imperative to the future of a sustainable building industry.

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