Study Investigates Embodied Carbon Emissions in U.S. Industrial Real Estate

by | Jun 26, 2023


(credit: BranchPattern)

Sustainability and engineering firm, BranchPattern, has released a 2023 embodied carbon study, targeting a lesser-explored major contributor to overall emissions in the carbon-intensive industrial real estate industry.

While most embodied carbon emissions data covers the office and multi-family sectors, this new study allows the industrial real estate sector to make informed construction decisions toward building sustainably. The study found that of 26 industrial U.S. core and shell buildings, the average embodied carbon intensity was about 50 pounds of carbon per square foot.

Embodied carbon emissions from buildings – which include emissions from sources like building materials and construction activities as well as operations – account for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mostly occurring in the first year of the building’s lifetime. The study both identifies the major carbon emitters and offers a roadmap for a more sustainable industrial sector. Potential carbon reduction strategies are included in the report, such as limiting concrete use, incorporating recycled steel, and reusing building materials.

“We are at a pivotal moment for owners and developers of real estate to look beyond the greenhouse gasses emitted during building operations,” said Chris Brown, solar development and ESG director at IDI Logistics, a partner in the study. “As industrial developers, the emissions embodied within large, concrete and steel buildings have an outsized role in the assets’ total carbon footprint. Working with industry peers, key partners, and suppliers to create pathways to lower carbon materials, design, and construction techniques is an integral part of reducing the impact buildings have in climate change.”

Calls to Action: Increased Embodied Carbon Policy, Industry Commitments

BranchPattern’s study aims to provide a shared approach to the measurement and reduction of GHG emissions globally. Included in the study’s report is an outlook for the future of embodied carbon, helping inform consumer and policymaker demands.

Sustainable buildings are already being constructed, but for widespread sustainability in the industrial real estate sector, policy change is a necessity. The study emphasizes the Inflation Reduction Act’s $5 billion toward incentivizing developments with low embodied carbon as a promising first step.

Creating more sustainable building certification programs, using low-carbon building materials, and supporting innovative technologies will also further efforts towards decarbonizing industrial real estate. Finally, the study calls for continued, transparent tracking and reporting of embodied carbon in the industrial development sector in order to continue reducing emissions.

“We recognize that even though it’s the largest data set analyzed to date, the 26 buildings included in the study are not a large enough sample size to establish a standard for the whole industry,” said Nate Maniktala, principal at BranchPattern. “However, this data is a valuable point of reference. The study’s methodology and findings can help the industrial development sector better track and report embodied carbon transparently to promote construction materials and methods that reduce emissions.”

Editor’s note: Don’t miss the virtual Environment+Energy Leader Solutions Summit ’23 on July 18-19. Learn tangible, innovative solutions to help with sustainable transitions across industries. Speakers from companies and organizations including Schneider Electric, Cority, Jump Associates, Mycocycle, Plainsight, LRQA, the Alliance to Save Energy, and many more will share tactics and lessons that can help you solve your energy management, sustainability, and ESG challenges. Learn more about the #EESummit23, and then register today!

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