ECHO Project Tackles Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment

Trees and plants sequester carbon and provide multiple co-benefits. ASLA 2023 Professional General Design Honor Award. The University of Texas at El Paso Transformation. El Paso, Texas. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc / Adam Barbe

A group of built environment industry groups and movement leaders has shared a new collaborative project to rapidly reduce embodied carbon in the built environment. The goal of the project is to ensure all embodied carbon reporting at the whole building and whole project scale in the U.S. — including landscapes and infrastructure — follow the same clear definitions and scopes of included impacts.

This coalition was convened jointly by five leading non-profit organizations:

It is comprised of representatives from:

This coalition is now referred to as the Embodied Carbon Harmonization and Optimization (ECHO) Project.

The coalition has reached a key milestone in its alignment work on embodied carbon reporting. It has agreed to a first draft of basic minimum requirements of a common framework for embodied carbon reporting, entitled the North American Minimum Project Embodied Carbon Reporting Framework V1.0. The document is now being shared with partners. We expect to publish resources in early 2024.

“Approximately 75 percent of landscape architecture project emissions are from embodied carbon — these are emissions generated from the extraction, transportation, and installation of materials. Climate Positive Design and ASLA are proud to support the ECHO Project. Reducing embodied carbon emissions and aligning how they are tracked with the built environment industry are key to improving our overall impact together,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design and Chair, ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

The ECHO project is also completing a data reporting schema to ensure that all organizations — standards-setting organizations, professional commitment organizations, and others — use the same data schema for databases and digital tools. This can ensure organizations gather and share whole building and whole project embodied carbon data in the same way.

Reporting of embodied carbon emissions from built environment construction has increased rapidly across North America. But variations in Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment boundary definitions have resulted in inconsistent reporting that does not easily allow for comparison, benchmarking, or setting reduction targets.

Standardized reporting is critical to advancing the industry’s understanding of embodied carbon emissions and its ability to measure meaningful reductions, as well as providing a mechanism to reliably compare emissions reporting between projects.

ECHO Project

The initial scope of reporting requirements is narrow in focus, as it represents the minimum areas where consensus is already reached across ECHO. This framework will evolve and expand over time.

The organizations involved are encouraged by this step towards clarity, alignment, and collaborative action to advance the rapid transformation of the built environment towards a decarbonized future.

The ECHO Project intends to continue meeting to further define scopes and accounting practices for embodied carbon in the built environment. We will discuss future projects, including the potential for joint participation in a central data repository of whole project embodied carbon data points for building and infrastructure projects to assist in policy making and standards setting efforts.

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