In 2017, we published a brief synopsis about the future of cross laminated timber [CLT]. In the three short years since, interest in sustainable construction continues to gather significant momentum and our knowledge about new products like CLT continues expanding. With heightened environmental awareness—backed by strong leadership from our industry pushing for code reformation—our region is now poised to take advantage of the multiple benefits offered by mass timber structures. Clients are paving the way with an increased focus on finding more sustainable ways to build and lower carbon footprints. We are excited to support them on these journeys.
Microsoft committed to being carbon negative by 2030, and is on track to remove all carbon emitted since it was founded in 1975 by 2050. Power purchase agreements will supply them with 100% renewable energy by 2025.
Google became carbon neutral in 2007 and committed to supply and operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030. They are currently the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.
Large global corporations are not alone in stepping up their game. Local developers such as Rowley Properties, Inc and Vulcan Real Estate consider environmental impacts with every decision, opting to incorporate the safest and healthiest materials and systems in their buildings. In fact, Rowley just completed the first building in the City of Issaquah to use CLT.
As part of the Microsoft Campus Modernization project team, GLY supports the corporation in achieving its goal to be carbon negative by 2030. The new campus, shown in the rendering above, is well underway and incorporates an extensive list of sustainable elements.
In the face of increasing concern about the climate crisis, local jurisdictions also focus efforts on carbon reduction:
The City of Redmond published an emergency declaration establishing a goal of carbon neutrality for City operations by 2030 along with other key climate and sustainability commitments.
The City of Seattle aims to reduce total core greenhouse gas emissions 58% by 2030, and become carbon neutral by 2050.
The City of Bellevue similarly targets greenhouse gas emission with an 80% reduction goal by 2050, and 50% by 2030. Look for the release of its 2020-2025 Environmental Stewardship plan in December.
How can mass timber offset carbon?
Producing one ton of concrete emits nearly one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Sustainable wood production sequesters carbon. CLT is made from forest waste that is often burned. Transforming this waste material into a versatile, fire and earthquake resistant building material can displace carbon intensive products like concrete and be part of an effective, carbon-friendly forest management strategy.
Benefits of mass timber construction:
Mass timber, including CLT, is now allowed by code adoption in many jurisdictions. We see more and more interest in the construction type and best uses [office, housing, or other]. As a building material, mass timber is versatile and offers many benefits:
Lighter than steel and concrete, mass timber buildings require shallower, smaller foundations, which lowers the structural system cost.
CLT and other mass timbers have good fire ratings due to char characteristics. They can be left exposed under most construction types.
Exposed interior natural wood finishes reduce additional finishing costs such as drywall, paint, and ceiling elements.
Depending on construction type, beam spans and occupancy, mass timber structures can lead to labor and schedule savings.
Exposing CLT on both the underside and floor eliminates the need for topping slabs, saving flooring, ceiling, and structural costs.
Local options for mass timber supply in the Pacific Northwest lowers the carbon emissions from transporting the materials to jobsites.
The use of mass timber lowers a project’s overall carbon footprint. Better yet, with the additional design elements such as solar panels, all electric kitchens and HVAC systems, you can even help achieve zero carbon goals.
GLY, Coughlin Porter Lundeen, and VIA Architecture supported Rowley Properties through various systems studies to optimize the use of CLT on 2005 Poplar, a new four-story mixed-use office building in Issaquah, Washington. Completed in October 2020, the building showcases a CLT roof that is exposed to fourth-floor tenants and a feature wall and stair that expands ground to roof-top.
Where is GLY in its sustainability journey?
Individually and together, GLY is on a path of continuous improvement. We never stand still, or stop learning and questioning. Working as a team to achieve shared goals is deeply embedded in our culture, and our history. As a proudly born and bred Pacific Northwest company, everyone at GLY shares a passion for our great outdoors. In 2012 GLY was one of the first to join Forterra’s carbon mitigation program, which plants trees to absorb carbon over their lifetime. Many of our GLY families enjoy spending weekends planting trees in parks across our region, working hard to do what we can to protect and restore this corner of the planet we call home.
Achieving more sustainable outcomes for our clients and for GLY is a key area of focus for me in my role as Principal. I recently attended the virtual ILFI Zero Carbon conference with Laura Soma, GLY’s Sustainability Specialist. It was empowering for us to hear from the speakers and learn about real examples of truly sustainable approaches for getting to zero carbon.
In 2012 GLY became a founding member of Forterra’s Evergreen Carbon Capture Program and voluntarily measured our carbon output. Every year since, we purchase and plant trees throughout the region to mitigate our carbon footprint. In 2019 we took it a step further and adopted our very own park where we plant our trees and care for them throughout the year.
What is GLY doing to reduce its carbon footprint?
We continue to research and investigate. GLY constantly looks for ways to lower our carbon footprint, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and make a positive impact not only for our clients and the jobsite, but the surrounding community. Some of these steps include:
Including EPD requirements in subcontractor and supplier bid instructions to make sure we understand the embodied carbon of the materials coming on site.
Continuing education through webinars and conferences related to mass timber, carbon reduction, and other sustainable practices.
Tracking Operational Carbon at our main office and off-setting the impact by planting trees through Forterra and at our adopted park in Redmond, Washington.
Leveraging industry experts and organizations like WoodWorks, Forterra, and Carbon Leadership Forum to foster a culture of sustainable mindsets dedicated to assisting our clients in achieving their sustainable goals.
Tracking our waste streams to ensure we are recycling as much as possible and reducing landfill content.
Where do we go from here?
Sustainability is a journey, not an end. There is always more we can do and new ways to apply thinking and technology to solving the world’s pressing climate crisis. We need no further motivation than our love for our region; after all, GLY’s founders were motivated to make their temporary work relocation to Seattle from the Midwest a permanent one specifically because of its natural beauty. There are steps we can take right now towards a zero carbon future, and many of them start with our individual choices and what we’re doing not only on the job, but also at home.
We can’t offset what we don’t measure. Several online tools are available to help determine a building’s carbon footprint. Life Cycle Assessment [LCA] tools can help us make the right choices during design and set baselines for back checking as we progress through design and into construction. Several to consider include ZGF’s Concrete LCA Tool, the EC3 [Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator] tool, and Tally.
Also, remember that to address total carbon footprint, projects need to account for both embodied carbon and operational carbon to find total carbon: EC+OC=TC. Only then can you really say you are addressing your carbon footprint.
2030 will be too late to start. Join us and start now.