Did you know that residential and commercial structures account for almost three-quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States? This statistic is based on operational emissions, which are largely related to energy consumption, but when we add the matter of embodied carbon footprint, we can clearly see that the construction industry is a good place to start with regard to reducing carbon emissions.
Understanding Embodied Carbon
Embodied carbon is the term used to describe the environmental impact of structures, particularly industrial and commercial buildings. This carbon footprint measurement is a bit complicated because it calculates what happens before construction materials are fabricated. In the case of modern ceramic flooring, for example, tiles are made with specialty rock and sand harvested from the surface of the earth, and the bonding chemicals plus sealants are made with petroleum-based substances.
More than 10% of all emissions around the world come from embodied carbon. As building materials deteriorate over time, even more carbon emissions will be generated. Since we know that carbon emissions need to be reduced in order to promote overall sustainability, there needs to be a focus on the manufacturing of construction materials, and California is leading the country in this regard.
Construction Regulations in California
Even during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, California environmental regulators worked to establish rules to make the construction industry more eco-friendly. From now on, the state procurement office will require embodied carbon declarations on all the materials used for public construction projects. The idea is to ensure that the building materials used have low carbon footprints. One example in this regard would be quartz flooring because engineered stone is made with unused fragments of marble, granite, and other natural stone; moreover, quartz does not need chemical sealing and will last for many decades without staining, etching, and deterioration. In other words, engineered stone is more sustainable than natural stone.
It would not be unreasonable to think that this new rule, which currently affects state construction projects, will apply to commercial and residential construction in the near future. Owners of California residential and commercial properties can expect to see new material requirements being implemented over the next few years, and there is a chance that retrofitting existing structures to reduce their carbon footprint will be incentivized by means of coupons and tax deductions; this will be a situation similar to previous initiatives to purchase Energy Star appliances and low-flow toilets.