Apr22

KPFF is a Signatory of SE 2050

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After years of the AEC industry working towards eliminating the operation carbon of our buildings, the focus has started to shift to reducing embodied carbon associated with the building materials.  As the carbon emissions related to structural materials can amount to up to 80% of a building’s total embodied carbon footprint, structural engineers will have a large role to play in making these reductions. 

KPFF was a signatory of the Carbon Leadership Forum’s 2018 Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge and we are now excited to announce that KPFF is a signatory of Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) Structural Engineers 2050 (SE 2050) Commitment Program which states that: 

“All structural engineers shall understand, reduce and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050.” 

The goal of SE 2050 is ambitious, and SEI recognizes “the needs for coordinated action across our profession to achieve the globally stated goal of net zero carbon by 2050.”  Since this is the first year of the SE 2050 Commitment, the program is challenging structural engineers to educate themselves, our clients and the public in embodied carbon in building materials and drive the momentum to have new technology developed to help us reach our 2050 net zero goal.  We, at KPFF, are dedicated to being a part of the solution.

As citizens of this planet, many of us are doing our best to reduce our personal carbon footprint to help combat climate change, and as practicing structural engineers, reducing embodied carbon in our designs is one of the biggest impacts we can make.

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Figure 1: Example of impact of structural changes on embodied carbon in a KPFF design (Carbon equivalents from EPA.gov)

As a signatory of SE 2050, we have developed a firm specific Embodied Carbon Action Plan (ECAP) that outlines our planned approach to reducing embodied carbon in our structures in the next year.  Our main focus will be in three target areas: educate our staff with a firm-wide education program that promotes sustainable best practices; participate in SE 2050’s embodied carbon tracking program; and communicate with clients, the design community, and the public to build an understanding about embodied carbon and impacts of the built environment.

KPFF has already been working towards reducing the embodied carbon in our structures.  Some highlights of our efforts to date are:

  • We have worked with concrete suppliers in many of our local markets to develop and implement  lower carbon concrete mixes that can drastically reduce the overall global warming potential of the concrete, which is often the largest contributor to embodied carbon for a structure. 
     
  • We are pioneers in designing cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures, which allows us to use wood as a building material where historically only concrete or steel were used.  We are actively working hand-in-hand with academia in understanding the structural behavior of CLT systems and developing new ways to utilize CLT. 
     
  • We have led whole building life cycle assessments (LCA) for multiple projects and continue to develop our own internal database for the embodied carbon impacts for different structural systems.  As sustainability has become an increasingly important factor in decision making on many projects, this knowledge has helped be active participants in reducing embodied carbon.
     
  • KPFF is active in the sustainability community, with employees who are active in, and chairs of, local and national sustainability committees.  We are sharing the information we gather with others by giving presentations to other structural engineers, architects, contractors and clients.

We know that we cannot reach the goal of eliminating embodied carbon in our projects by 2050 alone.  We are excited to combine our efforts with our fellow structural engineers in the SE 2050 Commitment to make greater strides towards achieving our goal.  We are always looking for new allies, and if you’re interested in partnering with KPFF in furthering sustainability in structures, please feel free to reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you. 

KPFF's SE 2050 initiatives are led by Molly Seto in the San Francisco group and Shana Kelly in the Seattle group. 

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