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California sets embodied carbon limits for construction

Updated building code mandates a whole life carbon approach and sets embodied carbon limits.

Sep 15, 2023

California has become the first state in the United States to enact regulations limiting embodied carbon in the construction industry. The change will come into force from July 1, 2024, and marks a significant stride towards a more sustainable future.

A Holistic Approach to Carbon

Under these new regulations, architects and engineers will be required to take a whole life carbon approach and set embodied carbon limits for their projects. Embodied carbon, often overlooked when calculating the environmental impact of buildings, refers to the carbon footprint associated with the materials used in construction before a building becomes operational.

Scott Gaudineer, President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) California, emphasized the urgency of this shift, stating:

“It can take up to 80 years to overcome embodied carbon’s impact through strategies that reduce energy usage or operational carbon; the planet doesn’t have that time.”

The Crucial Role of Embodied Carbon Reduction

Focusing on reducing embodied carbon holds immense promise in the quest to achieve net-zero emissions goals. Unlike operational carbon, which accounts for a building’s emissions during its use, embodied carbon tackles emissions right from the construction phase. This proactive approach promises more immediate and impactful results in the fight against climate change.

Where to Find the Regulations

These forward-thinking code amendments are embedded within the 2022 California Green Building Standards Code. They will apply to a range of construction projects, including new builds, adaptive reuse projects, and renovations of non-residential buildings exceeding 100,000 square feet or schools exceeding 50,000 square feet.

A Catalyst for Change

California’s bold move isn’t isolated; it’s part of a larger wave of sustainable practices taking root across the country. The Buy Clean California Act, which has already acted as a catalyst for similar state and federal Buy Clean programs, serves as a compelling precedent. With the introduction of these embodied carbon regulations, California is set to inspire change and innovation across North America.

As the world grapples with the pressing challenges of climate change, California’s pioneering stance on embodied carbon serves as a beacon of hope and an example of how proactive measures can lead us toward a more sustainable and resilient future. The Golden State’s commitment to reducing embodied carbon sets the stage for a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow, where every building project contributes to a healthier planet.

In the face of environmental challenges, California’s decision reminds us that change is possible, and it starts with each brick, beam, and blueprint. As other regions take note, the ripple effect of this milestone is poised to reshape the construction industry’s landscape, leaving a positive impact that extends far beyond state lines.

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