Reducing greenhouse gas emissions key to curbing global warming
One thing has been made abundantly clear thanks to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on climate change: we need to move to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly future, as soon as possible. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative to slow the impact of climate change. Earth is warming up much faster than we thought, which could lead to some disastrous and “catastrophic” outcomes.
So, how do we stop that from happening? What are some ways that we can reduce GHG emissions?
1. Smarter Design
The planning and design phases are the perfect time to choose materials for the project. Generally, they’re chosen to match the structure or build, or to meet certain requirements, like strength, or versatility.
But another way to approach the process is to select eco-friendly or more sustainable materials first, and then create the design around them. Things like glass, liquid wood, PCL, or starch-based polymers, are all great alternatives. Many of these materials can even be combined with newer technologies such as additive manufacturing (or 3D printing).
The main focus is to eliminate material waste and to use more sustainable options that are better for the environment. Based on a report put together by C40 Cities, Arup, and the University of Leeds, called Building and Infrastructure Consumption Emissions, it’s clear that more efficient material designs can lower emissions. With smarter planning, we could see a potential emissions reduction of 18% by 2050.
2. Recycling Materials
The same emissions report proposes more widespread use of recycled materials, highlighting new ways to incorporate reused materials and components in the building process. Virgin metal and petrochemical-based materials are a great start. They could potentially reduce emissions by as much as 3-11% by 2050.
Other, more common materials include wood, brick, plastics, insulation, glass, and beyond. The impact is two-fold, as it reduces waste from other projects or sites, and lowers the cost of new materials, as well as the impact of acquiring them, especially for something like wood, which can have a huge impact on the environment and community.
3. New Equipment
It’s no secret that heavy equipment can be resource hogs and contribute to carbon emissions after burning fossil fuels. The older the equipment, the less energy- and fuel-efficient it tends to be. Newer systems are designed to provide more bang for your buck on that front, but a lot of them also incorporate hybrid power solutions. Some are even full electric. It means many teams should seriously consider whether to replace or retrofit equipment. Retrofitting or replacing equipment are two great ways to reduce emissions.
There are state-funded programs that offer incentives to companies that upgrade to lower-emission assets, like the Texas Emissions Reduction Program or the California Air Resource Board’s Moyer Program.
4. Low-Carbon Alternatives
When most people think of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, they think about the more obvious contributors, like vehicles, heavy machinery, and burning fossil fuels. However, there are other major contributors, like concrete, for instance. Believe it or not, traditional concrete is a carbon-intensive construction material because of how it’s produced and readied during projects.
Going with a low-carbon alternative could vastly lower total emissions, as much as 6% by 2050, according to the Emissions report. The Hawaii Department of Transportation announced recent plans to utilize carbon-injected concrete — recycling CO2 — in all future construction projects.
Also incorporating natural and renewable resources as a foundational part of any project can help reduce energy consumption and emissions. As researchers from Elsevier and MIT have proposed, “The natural energy available in our immediate environment should be harnessed and smartly consumed so that we can provide a basic need.”
5. Carbon Sequestering
Certain materials and processes can sequester carbon and help reduce its buildup. Wood and timber are great examples, but other materials may include straw, hemp, and similar natural and annually renewable sources. Hemp-based insulation, for example, is both natural and efficient, ultimately cutting down on the need to collect and produce alternative materials.
Beyond that, replanting and selecting the appropriate plant life for a community can be just as beneficial. About 25% of all carbon emissions have been historically captured by forests, grasslands, and farms. Incorporating more natural elements into any build, whether urban and city-based or rural, can make a big difference than merely clearing an area to fill it with structures and components.
6. Skip the Finish
Traditionally, homes, offices, and other buildings are finished in various ways, like flooring, to make the space more convenient and attractive. Structural materials are used to finish the space, incorporating carpets, tile, vinyl flooring, and so on. But an excellent way to conserve resources and reduce waste is to embrace unfinished elements.
Keeping the concrete slab that’s on the floor, for instance, and repainting or staining it to look more appealing, is more sustainable. Or, leaving unfinished natural ceilings with rafters and underpinnings exposed — as long as they’re safe — is another example. In many cases, these practices lend natural or rustic beauty to the project, as well, so it’s a win-win situation thanks to more sustainable designs, reduced waste, and appealing visuals.
We Have a Long Way to Go
Climate change and greenhouse gas complications are not coming; they’re already here. The IPCC report points out that there’s a 1-1.5-degree C temperature increase as a result of carbon emissions, which we’re soon going to feel the full effects of if that hasn’t started already. Even if we drop everything right now, right this second, and completely reduce our influence on the environment, it will continue warming for quite some time. We are inching ever closer to a threshold that cannot be walked back.
It is imperative that we collectively work to reduce emissions and lower our general impact, by cutting back as much as possible. Smarter more efficient processes, more sustainable design and construction practices, and better overall planning are all excellent ways to get there. We shouldn’t stop there, either, as there are many additional ways in which we can further reduce emissions and our destruction of the environment. All said, however, these ways to reduce GHG emissions are a great start, and the sooner it happens, the better for all of us.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over four years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.