California Becomes the First State in the U.S. To Tackle Embodied Carbon in Its Building Codes

The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) and the Division of the State Architect (DSA) reformed California’s building code standards that require the reduction of embodied carbon emissions in the design and building process.

According to the Architect’s Newspaper, Today, building emissions constitute 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas pollution. California architect Michael Malinowski, who championed the effort, says that addressing this in the building code is a quick, efficient means to reduce carbon emissions. “The American Institute of Architects California has been working for a number of years to help California move forward with decarbonization of our building stock, which contributes approximately 40% of our state’s greenhouse gas pollution,” Malinowski said. “Using the building code in this way is important in shifting ‘business as usual’ across the building industry to also address climate action.” 

“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,” AIA California President Scott Gaudineer said in a statement. “Today’s actions…codify a cultural shift: to meet decarbonization timelines set by California law, embodied carbon must be reduced in addition to operational carbon.”

California follows Norway’s lead which has become a thought leader in embodied carbon discourse. FutureBuilt, a pilot program sponsored by the Norwegian government, is committed to cutting the country’s embodied carbon emissions in half. The effort started in 2018 when the Norwegian government passed Norwegian Standard NS 3720 Method which offered a new method for calculating greenhouse gas emissions, evaluating emissions based on a 60-year period. The new evaluating method places important emphasis on how building materials are transported to factories and construction sites, and the carbon emissions emitted from that process.

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