Earth Day 2020: Embodied Carbon and Local Events

February 27, 2020

Earth Day, Saturday, April 25, 2020, is fast approaching. And by fast, I mean approximately 1,700 kilometers per hour. This is the speed at which the Earth revolves around our sun and, while perhaps not the fastest massive body in our galaxy or solar system, our planet makes up for its relatively low speed with countless other properties yet to be seen anywhere else.

For one, this is the only place where the existence of complex life is certain. At the most basic level, we have a fortuitous combination of elements to thank for our own composition and presence. Establishing that this planet allows us to exist upon it, we can look to the sky to our nearest neighbor, the moon.

It just so happens that the angular geometry of the moon, at 238,900 miles away, allows it to appear to be the same size as the sun at roughly 92 million miles away. This perfect balance of distance and size is what allows us to see the sun’s corona during a solar eclipse, when the moon perfectly covers the visible surface of the sun to expose only these wispy tendrils that are emitted as a result of the fusion of hydrogen atoms to produce helium and energy.

Finally, the very surface of our world lends itself to incredible diversity of flora and fauna across its many biomes and ecosystems. Over millennia, humanity has harnessed properties of these plants and animals from the furthest reaches of the planet for various benefits that allow us to move forward socially and technologically.

All of this – our ability to live healthily on our planet, to observe celestial spectacles, to enjoy the seemingly limitless variety of all corners of the globe – is at stake.

From an architectural standpoint, there are key practices that can be implemented to offset environmental damage. In conjunction with sustainable design, a major focus area is embodied carbon, or the carbon dioxide emitted in the harvest, manufacture, transport, and construction of building materials. Larry Strain, FAIA, outlines steps to mitigate embodied carbon in the design and creation of our built environment. Here are some key takeaways:

First, a concerted effort should be made to reuse rather than create. This goes for existing structures and building materials alike. Strain explains that renovation and reuse projects can save roughly 50-75% of embodied carbon emissions as compared to a new construction project. In new construction projects, the reuse of recycled building materials can drastically cut down on embodied carbon emissions, especially the reuse of carbon-intensive materials.

The carbon is in the pudding, which in this case is concrete. Concrete has a relatively low ratio of embodied carbon per ton, but due to its prevalence in almost all construction its use is the highest source of embodied carbon emissions on most projects. Making the switch to lower carbon mixes that use fly ash, slag, calcined clays, and even the use of lower-strength mixes where possible can measurably eliminate a portion of your project’s embodied carbon emissions.

Limiting carbon-intensive materials in the design process also equates to lower embodied carbon emissions of the finished project. Thoughtful use of these materials only where necessary and the substitution with less-intensive materials where possible will further reduce your project’s impact.

If you find yourself wondering how you can make a difference this Earth Day, consider attending these events:

Whether you’re helping remove litter and debris from a popular hiking spot or taking part in Earth Day celebrations, take a moment to ponder your own impact on the environment and steps you can take to reduce your footprint.

Here at LGA, we believe everyone is a steward of the Earth. We are committed to creating places that are harmonious with the surrounding environment and community, having designed some of the most sustainable projects in Nevada. We’ll be participating in events across the valley and we hope to see you out there!


Carson Galati is an interim Marketing Coordinator at LGA, supporting practitioners in the creation of compelling content and collateral. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing with a concentration in Health & Industry from Bentley University. Studying in Boston and spending nearly a year in Melbourne, Australia, Carson leverages his global perspective and “big picture” thinking alongside his passion for writing, the environment, and continued learning to generate effective professional services marketing materials.