Global architecture firm Perkins&Will recently announced that it will issue its clients a “carbon forecast” for their projects—a tool to facilitate measurable and meaningful carbon reduction in the built environment.
Carbon forecasts will help clients understand—at the earliest stages of design—their projects’ carbon emissions from building design, construction and operation (known as whole-life-carbon), as well as the impact of those emissions on human and environmental health. Most important, the forecasts will identify bespoke steps clients and project teams can take to reduce those emissions.
- Strategies for realizing net-zero operational carbon immediately or in the near-term. Operational carbon, or the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during a project’s operation, can be reduced through passive design, minimization of energy loads, optimization of systems, disconnection from unclean fuel sources,and integration of renewable energy.
- Measures for realizing maximum reductions in embodied carbon. Embodied carbon, or the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building materials, can be reduced through the use of lower-embodied-carbon materials and quantified through whole-building life cycle assessments.
- Opportunities for enabling circular design. Carefully researched design solutions can minimize material waste, maximize material reuse and optimize environments for material health.
“Firmwide, we’re investing in research and talent, emphasizing scientific rigor in our design process, and coordinating with global partners to effect change at scale,” said Kathy Wardle, principal and director of sustainability. “We’re applying all available industry tools and even building new ones, and we’ll benchmark performance and catalogue best practices as we go.”
As one of the largest architecture and design firms in the world, Perkins&Will can play a significant role in scaling up the industry’s carbon reduction efforts—not only because of its influence as a global design leader, but also through its vast portfolio of projects.
“Building owners, designers, constructors and product manufacturers need to do their part in reducing whole-life carbon in buildings. This is an urgent and essential component of tackling climate change,” said Perkins&Will CEO Phil Harrison. “While many exemplary low-carbon projects have been built or are in design, the challenge before us now is to deliver low-carbon buildings at scale.”
Kaiser Borsari Hall at Western Washington University: A Carbon Forecast Prototype
One of the first Perkins&Will clients to receive a carbon forecast is Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Kaiser Borsari Hall, the University’s future home for electrical engineering, computer science, and energy science, will be the only carbon-neutral academic facility in the region—and one of only a handful in the U.S.—when it opens in 2024. The building will surpass LEED standards for energy use, carbon reduction and other environmental indicators, and will pursue certification through the International Living Future Institute. Kaiser Borsari Hall is a cornerstone in Western’s plan to become the Pacific Northwest’s first carbon-neutral university campus, and Perkins&Will’s carbon forecast is a valuable tool to realize that plan.
“The design of Kaiser Borsari Hall is one more example of Western’s leadership in sustainability, and the carbon forecast for the project provides a high-impact visualization that demonstrates the value of carbon reduction to our organization and community,” said Rick Benner, university architect and senior director of capital planning and development at Western Washington University. “The forecast may also help attract donors who can support specific measures to drive the project as near to ‘net-zero’ as possible.”
Perkins&Will’s Legacy of Noteworthy Effort—with a Promise to Do More
For more than a decade, Perkins&Will has been involved in climate action strategies locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Since signing the AIA 2030 Commitment in November of 2011, the energy efficiency of the firm’s built projects increased, on average, by 27%, while overall energy use reduction grew to 58.1%, nearly 10% above the AIA’s national average.
Additionally, the firm has taken steps to track, measure and offset the operational carbon emissions of its own real estate. As a 2021 signatory of the World Green Building Council’s Net-Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, Perkins&Will pledged whole-life-carbon reduction for every one of its owned and operated offices by 2030.
Other efforts—from research and development to authorship, partnership, and pledges—include:
- Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3)
- World Green Building Council Report: Beyond Buildings
- C40 Clean Construction Declaration
- Architecture 2030
Carbon forecasts, the firm’s latest contribution to climate action, are not a global warming panacea, Harrison admits. But they do represent another significant financial and intellectual capital investment in research and strategic partnerships to accelerate carbon reduction. The firm will report its progress in one year.
“It might sound hyperbolic, but the truth is that the health of our planet and all of humanity is at stake,” he says. “We believe carbon forecasts can help our clients drive down their carbon emissions with greater confidence and measurable impact—and that’s a leap in the right direction.”