Embodied Carbon Reduction Strategies in Design: Emory HSRB II

Michael Graham, HOK
Morgan Neal, HOK

Building embodied carbon dioxide emissions occur due to materials extraction, processing, transport to site, and construction. As an industry, we are targeting a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. Typically a third of total building project emissions, embodied carbon is accounted for through a process called Whole-Building Life-Cycle Analysis (WBLCA). On the Emory HSRB II project, this allowed multi-disciplinary decision-making to reduce emissions, particularly during construction administration via a comparative WBLCA.

At Emory, the team used facade and structural bills of materials to run a WBLCA. In the WBLCA, we paired materials and modes of transport with their emissions factors (from national and international databases in One-Click LCA) and identified means of total emissions reduction. Eight different scenarios of mix design combinations were evaluated using LCA methodology, with the results informing decision-making between the design team, client, contractor and supplier to meet both schedule constraints and sustainability/LEED goals. Specification language and building typology (National Institutes of Health guidelines on vivaria) are also reviewed to ensure the appropriate pozzolanic material inclusion limits are set. Having the right parties involved early in the process allows measures such as higher fly-ash content concrete and concrete carbon-curing the lead time they require, and increases cross-disciplinary synergy in emissions reduction.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn the difference between embodied an operational carbon, and how embodied carbon is accounted for in the design process;
  • Learn what a Whole-Building Life-Cycle Analysis is, how one is conducted, what results it yields, and how to use the results of WBLCA (or several comparative WBLCAs) as feedback into the design and materials selection process;
  • Learn about methods of emissions (carbon and otherwise) reduction via building design, through limiting transportation distances, optimizing structural or facade systems and replacing high-emission materials with alternatives; and
  • Understand the impacts of pozzolanic materials on concrete carbon emissions, benefits, drawbacks and how to use this information in their next design.


A Senior Project Architect in HOK’s Atlanta office, Michael is an architect who has brought his leadership to a wide variety of sustainable science facilities throughout his career. His ability to blend design excellence and technical expertise has resulted in smart, sustainable buildings that exceed client expectations. He has had a significant role in design for two LEED Platinum facilities, as well as the LEED Gold (anticipated) Emory University Health Sciences Research Building II.

Morgan Neal is an Associate Project Engineer at HOK in Atlanta. Her portfolio includes new and existing structures in various sectors including healthcare, education, and workplace. With 10 years of experience, she has led project deliverables in all aspects of building design, construction, and retrofit.


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