Published on
May 12, 2021

Reduce Buildings’ Emissions by Thinking and Designing Holistically


Arol Wolford

Founder & CEO

Reducing our buildings’ emissions will also make them more profitable.

Twenty twenty-one stands to be a significant year in addressing climate change. With the White House rejoining the Paris climate accord, and the administration’s concerted focus on climate policy, the opportunity to fight climate change has never been greater. As we better understand how industries can adapt in response to new policies, it’s essential to understand the impact of the building and construction sector on carbon emissions.

Notably, as reported by Architecture 2030, our buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The organization also estimates that global new construction accounts for more than 3.7 billion metric tons of embodied carbon emissions or the GHG emission associated with processing, manufacturing, transporting, and installing building materials. This emission level is equivalent to building more than 11,000 Empire State Buildings every year.

Photo Credit: @RLTheis via Twenty20
Photo Credit: @RLTheis via Twenty20

These findings make it clear that the building industry needs to address its carbon footprint. In addition, it marks a significant opportunity for reducing our carbon emissions as we transition towards a net-zero future. With this comes another area of concern for the building and construction industry–productivity. A recent McKinsey study found that the construction sector’s annual productivity growth has only increased 1 percent in 20 years. In fact, in the U.S., while manufacturing, retail, and agriculture productivity grew by 1,500 percent since 1945, construction barely increased. But, if construction productivity caught up to the total economy, its value would rise by $1.6 trillion a year, a notable jump for an already large sector.

To improve productivity and reduce the building and construction industry’s carbon emission impact, we need to look at our buildings holistically.

But what this study also revealed, is that the push to make our buildings sustainable also has the potential to be a true disruptor for the industry, introducing a new era of productivity that will truly allow for real efforts to be made towards the decarbonization of buildings. One of the most notable process disruptions that we’re experiencing today is prefab, which eases and improves the construction process, improving cost, schedules, and predictability performance. In turn, as decisions and manufacturing occur in an offsite, factory-based environment, design changes occur less, meaning less waste.  

This introduces an exciting new idea for the industry: prioritizing sustainability in our construction can drastically improve productivity, making the industry more profitable long-term while also fighting climate change.

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