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Industry & Trends

California Builders Have a New Challenge: Embodied Carbon Laws

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September 6, 2023 | Warren Shoulberg

Already the state with the strictest environmental laws in the country, California has enacted new mandatory measures in its building codes to reduce embodied carbon.

California has become the first state in the country to enact new building codes that limit carbon emissions in the construction, remodeling, or adaptive use of certain structures. According to the American Institute of Architects California chapter, the changes were unanimously approved in early August by the California Building Standards Commission and go into effect on July 1, 2024, for buildings larger than 100,000 square feet and school projects over 50,000 square feet.

Embodied carbon refers to greenhouse gas emissions arising from building materials over their life cycle, which includes manufacture, transportation, installation, maintenance, decommissioning, and disposal. Mass timber advocates have said that the use of wood in buildings is more advantageous for embodied carbon levels.

“It can take up to 80 years to overcome embodied carbon’s impact through strategies that reduce energy usage or operational carbon,” said AIA California president Scott Gaudineer. “We don’t have that time.” He said that these new regulations “codify a cultural shift: to meet decarbonization timelines set by California law, embodied carbon must be reduced in addition to operational carbon.”

Michael Malinowski, a California architect who led the effort for the organization, said, “In their final form, these standards will be easily achieved for the large-scale projects they will apply to. Using the building code in this way is important in shifting ‘business as usual’ across the building industry to also address climate action.”

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