SE 2050 is an initiative calling on structural engineers to reduce embodied carbon in their designs and to meet ambitious carbon reduction goals. Over 80 firms have signed on so far, including Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Walter P Moore, WSP, Thornton Thomasetti, and Uzun+Case.
“If you're a concrete producer who proactively proposes sustainable solutions to SE 2050 firms, you would not only play a big role in reducing carbon, but you'll also take actions that make sense for your bottom line."Alex Bomstad, Senior Manager of National Specifications, CarbonCure Technologies
An Opportunity and a Responsibility
SE 2050 grew out of a recognition from the structural engineering community that they had the opportunity and a responsibility to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.
In 2019, the Carbon Leadership Forum formally issued the SE 2050 Challenge to the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The challenge states:
“All structural engineers shall understand, reduce and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050.”
SEI unanimously approved and officially endorsed the challenge. In 2020, it also adopted the SE 2050 Commitment Program, which was established to support structural engineers in their efforts to reach net zero.
“They recognized that the advancement of sustainability needs to be shared, as a responsibility to humankind, and to share best practices across our organizations,” said Alex.
When a SE firm signs up to the SE 2050 Commitment Program, it is formally supporting SE 2050’s goal of net zero embodied carbon from structural systems by 2050 and committing to meaningful action towards that goal. This includes:
- a letter of commitment from the firm’s leadership
- creating an Embodied Carbon Action Plan within six months of joining and annually thereafter
- measuring embodied carbon in projects and submitting data to the SE 2050 project database annually
Mark Webster is Senior Consulting Engineer at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) and a member of the Commitment Program’s Leadership Group. He’s excited about SE 2050’s plans to expand membership to smaller structural engineering firms across the country.
“We really want to make it possible and easier for smaller firms. Any firm of any size should be able to join, start writing an embodied carbon action plan and start measuring carbon,” Mark said.
Leadership is also interested in tackling embodied carbon in non-building structures by including infrastructure in an SE 2050 type challenge.
SGH joined SE 2050 in early 2021. “Reducing embodied carbon is going to be part of the business no matter what, and we want it to be part of the business. This is important. This has to be part of structural engineering,” said Mike Tecci, Senior Project Manager at SGH.
What SE 2050 Means for Concrete Producers
Some of the largest, most influential firms in the world are working towards decarbonization. By committing to SE 2050, a company is publicly declaring that it is looking for solutions to reduce embodied carbon. This creates a big opportunity for concrete producers who are able to offer sustainable solutions and help SE 2050 firms meet their goals.
“We want them to be our partners and we see this as something that could be good for them. Concrete producers that buy in or support it are going to be at a competitive advantage,” said Mark, pointing to the growing numbers of companies committed to SE 2050 as well as government policy at all levels calling for sustainable concrete.
Concrete producers can look to the list of companies signed on to SE 2050 as an indication of the current demand for low carbon products in their local market. They should also expect demand to grow in the near future.
“It's keeping your markets open. Maybe it doesn't hurt your business in year one or year two, but five years from now you're going to start feeling that pinch point if you're trying to catch up and you’re behind the other two ready mix suppliers down the road,” said Mike.
Low Carbon Concrete Initiatives
Concrete producers will see changes in specifications coming from structural engineers as the demand for sustainable concrete grows. SE 2050 firms, and other companies responding to this demand, are adopting language that allows the use of carbon-reducing technologies.
“SE 2050 empowers concrete producers to do what they do best and to provide sustainable innovation while showing that they’re meeting the performance necessary for the engineer,” said Alex.
Some of the changes producers may expect to see in specs include:
- Environmental product declarations (EPDs), either product-specific or industry-wide, to compare global warming potential (GWP).
- Performance-based specifications, which remove outdated and unnecessary prescriptive specs.
- Specifying GWP limits on specific materials or project elements.
- Technologies that can reduce the embodied carbon of concrete, such as CarbonCure’s carbon mineralization solution.
- Allowing the use of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) and Portland-limestone cement, and reducing concrete strength where possible, to reduce cement content.
SGH, for example, is revamping its standard specs to include embodied carbon reduction strategies so that engineers across the company can easily incorporate them into their designs. “They're not quite prescriptive, but they're not quite the other end of the spectrum either. It's a hybrid that doesn't seem out of line and that people are comfortable with,” said Mike.
SE firms use a combination of approaches depending on what’s appropriate for the client and the market. In Boston, for example, EPDs aren’t widely used so SGH specifies low embodied concrete by putting a cap on cement content. In its DC office, EPDs are available and SGH has specified caps directly on global warming potential.
Breaking Down Silos
Traditionally, concrete producers do not have a direct relationship with structural engineers. “The concrete producer has a relationship with the concrete contractor. The concrete contractor talks to the general contractor. The general contractor talks to the owner. The owner has separately employed the architect and the structural engineer to design the building,” said Alex.
SE 2050 offers stakeholders in a building project an opportunity to break down these silos, share best practices and collaborate as they align on a mission of decarbonization.
As experts in their field, concrete producers know what options and practices are available in concrete materials. By taking the lead in communicating this information to other stakeholders, especially general contractors and structural engineers, concrete producers can become top-of-mind in the pre-construction stage.
When reaching out to SE 2050 firms, producers can frame it as helping them fulfill their SE 2050 commitment by offering solutions to reduce embodied carbon.
To learn how CarbonCure can help your concrete business offer sustainable solutions to SE 2050 firms, contact us today.