Massachusetts’ Embodied Carbon Challenge: A Template for Other States?

Massachusetts developers concerned about the carbon emissions of their projects have a new opportunity to turn those concerns into actions—and to get paid for their efforts. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), which has already funded generous incentives for reducing operational carbon emissions in buildings by designing and building to the Passive House standard, is now launching the Embodied Carbon Reduction Challenge. A total of $320,000 in prizes will be given to up to 10 projects that demonstrate replicable, innovative, and impactful changes to reduce embodied carbon in building materials.

Qualifying projects can be any new or substantially renovated building that is at least 20,000 square feet, including multifamily, office, laboratories, or institutional buildings. Applications will be scored based on three categories: replicability and cost efficiency; innovativeness; and carbon reduction, determined by a project’s lifecycle analysis (LCA). The awards include $50,000 grand prizes for both new construction and renovations, seven prizes for runner ups of $30,000 each, and a $10,000 People’s Choice award. “The point of the challenge is to inspire high-impact, low-cost changes that can be held up as great examples,” explains Beverly Craig, senior program manager at MassCEC. She further adds, “There will be lots of prizes so that teams will have a good chance of being paid for their time.” The detailed guidelines for participating in the competition will be released in March 2023.

CLT Loading ii
CLT Loading viii

To facilitate architectural teams getting experience with LCA tools, MassCEC is willing to cover the costs for challenge participants of software licenses for such programs as Tally and OneClick. Built Environment Plus, the organization hired by MassCEC to help manage the challenge process, will be conducting trainings on these and other no-cost tools—including Athena and EC3—to highlight how and at what stages in the design process the tools best fit.

“If you’re at the schematic phase, say, and deciding how tall the building will be, then you can use the Structural Engineers 2050 ECOM tool and that’s free,” Craig points out, as one example of the right tool for the right phase. The ECOM, or Embodied Carbon Order of Magnitude, tool is intended to deliver estimates of embodied carbon for framing assemblies or entire structural frames. Although design firms are increasingly aware of the impacts of embodied carbon emissions, many have not taken the time to integrate LCA tools into their workflow. “There are lots of even medium-sized firms that haven’t ever done LCAs,” says Craig, who adds that she expects that half the prize money will go to these first-timer firms.

CLT Loading vii
CLT Loading x

MassCEC is also working to reduce carbon emissions from one of the most carbon-intensive building materials—concrete. The agency is hiring a consultant to administer a Concrete Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) Kickstarter Initiative. The initiative will provide financial and educational support for concrete plant owners to produce and begin publishing EPDs of their concrete mixes. Once these EPDs are published, customers will have an easier time understanding their choices and specifying lower carbon concrete mixes.

“Our job is to try things,” explains Craig, in speaking of the cutting-edge nature of these MassCEC initiatives. MassCEC pilots novel policy or incentive approaches, readying them for implementation on a larger scale by Mass Save—a much larger utility-funded collaborative offering efficiency services—or other state agencies. That was the case with the Passive House multifamily buildings incentives, which were first offered by MassCEC in 2016 and then picked up by Mass Save in 2017. “There have been 160 buildings representing over 10,000 units of multifamily housing that have used Mass Save’s Passive House incentive to design Passive House multifamily buildings in the four-and-a-half years that incentive has been offered,” Craig notes happily. That’s a whole lot of operational carbon emissions reductions in the state, among other benefits. She is envisioning similar levels of embodied carbon reductions just ahead.

Author: Mary James
Categories: Embodied Carbon, News