Low Carbon Building Materials

Do you work in the building sector, or are you getting ready to build your own home? Are you interested in finding ways to reduce the emissions of your building project?

In late 2020, the City of Nelson identified the need to enhance its approach to reducing the impact of our buildings by taking embodied carbon (otherwise referred to as material carbon emissions or embodied emissions) into consideration alongside operational carbon. While operational carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions emitted through building energy use such as heating, cooling, and lighting, embodied carbon refers to the emissions produced through the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.

With financial support from FortisBC and the City of Castlegar, the City of Nelson created the Low Carbon Homes Pilot in early 2021 to complement our existing energy efficiency programming and begin to find ways to reduce embodied carbon within our building sector. In 2021, a study was conducted to determine the average amount of embodied carbon emissions associated with new construction in Nelson and Castlegar. In 2022, the City of Nelson received additional FortisBC funding to apply the lessons learnt in 2021.

This second phase of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot has involved assembling an Embodied Carbon Advisory Group, completing a series of free embodied carbon analyses and consultations for projects across the Region, and hosting three educational workshops on how to reduce embodied carbon emissions within building projects.

To learn more about the topic, what our research has found, and how you can take action on climate change by choosing lower carbon building materials, check out the following resources: 

Embodied Carbon Brief(May 2021) This document was published ahead of the 2021 research study to introduce the building community to the concept of embodied carbon and summarize the intentions of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot.  

Building Better: Moving Beyond Energy Efficiency(September 2021) This presentation introduces the topic of embodied carbon, highlights its importance to emission reduction efforts in the building sector, and discusses the findings of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot. A key takeaway is that efforts to improve energy efficiency can lead to higher carbon emissions when the embodied carbon of building materials is not considered.   

ZEBx Decarb Lunch Series: Reducing Embodied Carbon for Step Code Homes (January 2022) This presentation summarized the Low Carbon Homes Pilot findings and how these relate to embodied carbon research projects underway in other parts of the country. It highlights that it is possible and necessary to reduce operational and embodied carbon emissions in new low-rise residential construction. The audio and slides from the presentation are available on the ZEBx website. 

Material Carbon Emissions Guide (March 2022) This document is designed to help municipal staff, builders, and others better understand the material carbon emissions associated with different building materials. It highlights the largest emitting material categories in Nelson and Castlegar and offers generalizable product rankings to give folks a sense of the emissions intensity associated with different building materials. The guide seeks to support the overall goal of improving the reliability, transparency, and ubiquity of high-quality material carbon emissions data and highlight the need for continued research on the topic.

Benchmarking Report  (March 2022) This document summarizes the work conducted in the Low Carbon Homes Pilot. It includes an overview of the methodology, a discussion of the findings, and a list of actions that building designers, energy advisors, builders/contractors, and municipal staff and regulators can take to reduce embodied carbon emissions. 

Building Better: Intro to Embodied Carbon (October 2022) This workshop recording includes discussion of the concept of embodied carbon and carbon use intensity, how Nelson’s embodied carbon averages compare to other Canadian cities, and preliminary actions to reduce embodied carbon (i.e., material substitutions). Here are the slides from this introductory workshop and another advanced workshop that was hosted in fall 2022.

Presentation LCHP Screenshot (wide)2 Opens in new window

Still curious to learn more? Reach out to the City's Climate Resilience Planner, Natalie Douglas, at ndouglas@nelson.ca to learn more about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within our building sector. Your participation matters.