• 10.07.11

Visualizing The Carbon In Our Built Environment

Architecture 2030’s plan is for all buildings to proudly announce how many emissions it required to build them, to operate them, and to eventually tear them down.

Visualizing The Carbon In Our Built Environment

Architecture 2030, a non-profit architecture and design group, intends to transform the global building sector–a source of about 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases (GHG), and almost half when you include the emissions from operating buildings.


The Architecture 2030 Challenge for Products, will visualize how much energy is “embedded” in  the built objects around us. It will reveal how much energy, and thus the volume of carbon required, for the construction, transport, and
eventual disposal of the steel, wood, plastic and other materials in
buildings. The group plans to standardize these figures into product labels that become, it hopes, a standard feature of new buildings.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system has already made strides in this direction, but its “decidedly dupable” checklist-based system boils “green” buildings down to a single ranking and treats bike racks and million-dollar heating systems almost equally, though that is starting to change, as we reported a few weeks ago.

Architecture 2030’s approach, while far more complex from a greenhouse gas accounting point of view, would offer more transparency and, importantly, leverage points to reduce the amount of energy (and GHG) in a building. Every major item and process should be accounted for within the system (the actual standards are not yet available). By visualizing, and then counting GHG in building products, the organization aims to cut new building emissions in half by 2030, and change “the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.”

It’s something that has stymied others in the past, but the 2030 Challenge for Products plans to roll out its labels in the next few years. They hope this will do nothing less than “change the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.” It’s a similar, more holistic approach to materials transparency as the Building Product Transparency Project we reported on earlier.

If history (and LEED) is any guide, their strategy is sound: establish a clear, measurable and achievable standard, and then let the market compete to achieve it. The standard just needs to stand up to its own lofty goals. 

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.