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CA28 - Are you responsible?
Architects need to start taking more responsibility.
THE TOPIC - CARBON RESPONSIBILITY
We’ve got a responsibility problem - nobody is taking responsibility for carbon.
One of the biggest problems we face when it comes to carbon emissions in architecture is that everyone thinks that reducing emissions is somebody else’s problem, and in many ways for good reason.
The user is just inhabiting a building someone else built
The contractor is just building what someone else designed
The architect is just designing what someone else commissioned
The owner is just commissioning something they can afford to build
Users have minimal control once the building it built, contractors can’t do much once the building is designed, architects are constrained by the design brief, and owners have a plethora of constraints revolving around market demand, maintenance, and affordability. In many ways it is a vicious circle of everyone thinking another group is responsible for making change. Of course, the obvious rebuttal to this argument is that architects and owners, who are the first ones at the table, have more of the responsibility because their decisions during the early stages of the design process have more impact. Although that might be true, I think we need to do less finger-pointing and focus on ALL taking responsibility for the emissions of buildings.
The GHG Protocol is a framework designed to assign responsibility for emissions based on who (corporations and governments) is producing the emissions. You may have heard these terms before - they are known as the Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 consist of direct and indirect emissions created by a company from onsite combustion, and emissions generated offsite from electricity use. Scope 3, which is optional to report, are upstream or downstream emissions that are critical to the function of a business. For obvious reasons, these emissions are much more difficult to define and have significant overlap between companies.
If you look at an architecture firm, for example, the emissions generated from burning fossil fuels to heat your office space are Scope 1. The emissions generated at the electricity power plant to run your computers are Scope 2. Your Scope 3 emissions would include emissions from the office chairs you purchased and the building you designed, to name a few.
THE BIG PROBLEM
If you assign mandatory emissions (Scope 1 & 2) to a building using the Corporate GHG Protocol you realize that the biggest emissions contributors in the value chain are product manufacturers and tenants/owner-occupiers. While this may not seem like a big issue, these two parties have some of the least impact on the actual commissioning and design of the building but are responsible for the largest chunk of emissions. If this wasn’t bad enough, those with arguably the most control, the architect, contractor, and developer, have virtually no Scope 1 or 2 emissions. This is a problem.
LMN Architects created this very helpful graphic from their Path to Zero Series to explain the emissions of critical parties in a design process by Life Cycle Stages. Specifically for the architect, it’s all Scope 3. We as architects need to step up and work to understand, communicate, and reduce our Scope 3 emissions and in doing so help those with less control in the value chain reduce theirs.
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WHY IT MATTERS
Scope matters for three primary reasons:
Architects, developers, and contractors should be taking more responsibility
Sure, most of the emissions from buildings don’t fall under the key team members of a design process, but we are responsible for making the choices. Together a team that is aligned on their goal to reduce emissions should focus on the scope 3 emissions which have a much larger impact than their scope 1 & 2.
Product manufacturers design a part, but not the whole
Product manufacturers are responsible for one of the biggest portions of emissions in buildings but they have minimal control over the system design. Think about concrete, for example. Notoriously high emissions, but although the concrete supplier has control over his mix, he is responding to the structural engineers’ design for strength and volumes.
Tenants have zero control over the building systems they inherit
Imagine you are a tenant that has high ambitions of reducing your carbon footprint, the problem is your landlord just installed a new gas furnace in your building. Well now your scope 1 emissions just went up even though you had nothing to say about it. That is an issue.
1 PERSON TO FOLLOW
Ryan is the founder and CEO of Mantel Developments. Helping to create a resilient, low-carbon future. He specializes in building embodied carbon life cycle assessment, green building consulting and certification including LEED and Zero Carbon Building Standard.
1 RESOURCE TO ACT ON
Have you been on ThermalEnvelope.ca? It’s a fantastic resource for understanding the energy performance and thermal bridging characteristics of standard systems.
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