AEC Resources

How to Specify for Low Carbon Construction

Specifying Low Carbon Construction

EPDs offer highly reliable science-based data about the carbon and environmental impact of products.  EPDs will serve as the foundation for whole building LCA, but in the early design and engineering stages, long before a product goes out to bid and where design decisions are critical, current tools are much less robust. Early decisions about core materials (concrete, steel, or wood) make a massive difference and must be made with much more crude tools than EPDs.

Here is how materials affect our climate health

Many papers and tools have been published or created to help in the critical early stages. Here we discuss a few of our favorites and what we view as best of class.

Carbon Leadership Forum

Strategies for reducing embodied carbon.

Architects can often make large embodied carbon reductions with cost-neutral measures. A 2021 report from RMI found that case studies had embodied carbon savings of 24–46% at cost premiums of less than 1%. Even greater reductions can be achieved through prioritizing design strategies early in a project.


10 Steps for architects to reduce embodied carbon.

This article was authored by Larry Strain, an architect who has been working on reducing embodied carbon for over 10 years. He defines steps that can be taken up front to make a big impact during the building stage of a project.

While the building industry needs to drastically reduce operating emissions, there must also be a coordinated effort to reduce embodied carbon from materials. Construction materials generate over 11% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. If we continue with business as usual, more than 50% of the emissions from new construction will come from the CO2 emitted in production of materials, with the majority coming from cement and steel.

The American Institute of Architects

Carbon Leadership Forum

Embodied carbon reduction for engineers with ECOM:

To quickly find the embodied carbon order of magnitude of your project we recommend ECOM a very simple estimator developed by Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA). ECOM stands for (E)mbodied (C)arbon (O)rder of (M)agnitude and is a basic embodied carbon estimator.


Selecting low carbon concrete.

Climate Earth works with 9 of the 11 largest concrete companies in the world and every day we are impressed with the level of innovation happening that goes well beyond steel and wood. In this space, we will boldly define the top four reasons to choose concrete.

  1. Mix design innovation. Ready mix design innovation with known materials can already reduce impacts by as much as 50% over traditional concrete. These innovations are documented with Climate Earth EPDs and can be made available to you immediately.
  2. Cement innovation. Every major cement producer has committed to zero carbon by 2050 and most to a reduction of 50% by 2035. Your project will encourage and accelerate this innovation.
  3. New process and product advances. Cement producers and innovative start-ups are investing hundreds of millions into new materials, many of which are already available from companies like Pozzotive or Taktl and many more.
  4. Performance specifications. Shifting from prescriptive to performance specification and working early in the design cycle, with hundreds of plants across North America that use the Climate Earth EPD Generator and Design Tools, means you can minimize the embodied carbon impact of your project significantly.