Builders for Climate Action is a movement that supports builders in their quest to build better, even carbon-positive, buildings.

From their website:

Builders for Climate Action is growing a coalition of builders, designers, developers, policy-makers, researchers and manufacturers to tackle the serious impact of buildings on our climate and work toward climate justice for all.

We want to offer future generations our best efforts to reign in the worst effects of climate change through smart, coordinated and effective action to address emissions in the sector while making a world that is just and equitable.

The coalition, founded by Chris Magwood of the Endeavour Centre, focuses on “the missing middle” in housing – that is, lowrise multi-unit dwellings such as duplexes, triplexes, mixed-use buildings. Their reasoning for focusing on this group is because:

  • At least 50% of what gets built in North America is low-rise
  • Small buildings are less reliant on structural concrete and steel
  • More material options exist in the sector
  • More existing carbon-storing options for the sector
  • Less barriers to innovation
  • Large group of forward-looking practitioners

(this list is taken from their website).

Why is it important to make a serious impact on the building sector?

The building sector is responsible for 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to Architecture2030. These emissions come from the operations of buildings (heating, cooling, lighting…), as well as the manufacture and use of building materials for constructing and renovating new buildings. Building materials themselves are often overlooked as a source of greenhouse gases, but as they note, 23% of annual GHG emissions come just from the manufacture of three materials – concrete, aluminum and steel. All of these materials are used not only in high-rise construction, but also in single and multi-unit buildings.

Getting back to Builders for Climate Action – what they are aiming to achieve is to make buildings a carbon sink instead of a carbon source – and this can all be done with a swap of materials.

What is embodied carbon and why is it important?

Embodied carbon (sometimes called “upfront carbon“) is the amount of energy that is expended to make the building materials, deliver, and install them in a building.

In the past, measuring this energy expenditure was difficult to calculate, manufacturers are now including environmental product declarations (EPDs) on their products. These EPDs are like a nutrition label for the material, indicating the ingredients, including potential harmful ingredients, as well as the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of the material. The GWP is expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent tons (CO2e) so that all materials can be compared.

What that means, is that you can now compare the climate impact of one type of insulation, or window type, or roofing material against others – and make a more conscious choice of material.

A good introduction to embodied energy by Chris Magwood, head of The Endeavour Centre and founder of Builders for Climate Action

The BFCA website is full of incredibly useful information on the impact of building material choices in construction. In the past this was an often overlooked issue, focusing instead on energy efficiency. In the age of climate change, however, the building materials we choose now will have a greater effect on climate change than a building’s energy efficiency.

Why? Because the energy that’s used to make the building material is expended immediately, whereas the energy that is used during operation is saved over the lifespan of the building (60 to 100 years or more). We no longer have the time to conserve energy in the long run. It must be conserved now.

The information available on the Builders for Climate Action website will help you, your builder and, your designer or architect, choose better, lower impact materials that perform the same functions as their higher impact counterparts.

One of the many white papers on the website demonstrates how buildings have the power to either contribute a significant amount of GHGs if built with high embodied energy materials versus actually storing a significant amount of carbon if built with negative embodied energy materials.

See Opportunities for CO2 Capture and Storage in Building Materials by Chris Magwood

If you are planning a renovation or building a new home and want it to be as green, or low impact, as possible, take a look at the BFCA website. It has oodles of information on how to build a carbon positive house and how to avoid a high GHG intensive house.

BEC Green

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