For all the attention decarbonization receives as a goal for our built environment, it can sometimes feel like a moving target. Is it about changing the way our power is produced? Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings? Changing the materials we build with?

In Architect magazine, William Richards proposes a simple formula architects can follow to accelerate decarbonization. The first step, he says, is making a commitment. He speaks with Billie Faircloth, a partner at KieranTimberlake in Philadelphia and a member of the leadership group for the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE).

“Faircloth and others say that total carbon — both embodied, which makes up to 90% of a building’s total contribution over its lifetime, and operational, which makes up the rest — is a total commitment, but one that is about hundreds of smaller choices that architects make each day,” Richards writes. Architects can see how the choices they make with product specifications affect carbon emissions using tools that detail the lifecycle carbon impact of those products, such as Environmental Product Declarations.

But if architects were to choose just one effort to decarbonize design and construction, Faircloth suggests they consider adaptive reuse. “Decarbonizing in our industry should begin with reusing buildings,” she says. “That is the most intuitive step. Let’s talk about why we need to be building new to begin with, and then let’s make building reuse front and center.”

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