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Manufacturing, Materials A Pain Point For Architects And Designers Trying To Improve Sustainability

Architype’s Joe Fitzpatrick, MAD Architects’ Tiffany Dahlen, HMC Architects’ Jennifer Wehling, Tournesol Siteworks’ Christopher Lyon, HED’s Peter Devereaux and McCullough Landscape Architecture’s David McCullough.

Real estate accounts for 40% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and the challenges to reducing that number are manifold.

One challenge that resonated with speakers at Bisnow’s Los Angeles Architecture and Design Summit was the lag of the manufacturing sector in fabricating effective, low- or no-carbon substitutes for building materials.

“One of my favorite pastimes is to sit in a lunch presentation with a materials vendor and really just ask them questions,” HMC Architects Director of Sustainability Jennifer Wehling said during a panel at the event, held Aug. 9 at the Omni Hotel and Resort. “It makes them sweat.” 

So many of those vendor representatives, she said, are reading from a sheet or prepared notes and don’t actually have the detailed knowledge of their product that they should. In many cases, Wehling has found, the people who should know the most about these products do not. 

“There's a long way to go on the manufacturing side,” Wehling said. 

report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in the spring asserted that reducing embodied carbon — the carbon dioxide emissions that come from the materials and the construction of new projects — was a critical element of any plan to limit global warming and beat back the worst impacts of climate change. 

However, a Bisnow investigation in April found current conditions suggest that reduction will not happen, in part because of the difficulty tracking embodied carbon in materials. 

HED founding principal Peter Devereaux said that he’d reached out to a company about a year ago that claimed to be producing a low-carbon alternative to cement and concrete for the construction industry. 

Excited, he called the CEO of the company, but after spending an hour and a half on the phone, he was left with the impression that the CEO was an excellent salesman, “but I don't think he knows anything about the building industry.” 

He recently googled the company to see what it was up to and found that it has two pending lawsuits against it, one in Canada and another in the U.S., alleging that it misrepresented its products. 

“I think we need to be careful [because] people are also trying to take advantage of the situation,” Devereaux said. 

There are manufacturers that are creating excellent products, Wehling said, and those in the architecture and design world are in a position to help amplify those products by specifying their use in their designs.