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Building to Reduce Embodied Carbon Emissions

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September 24, 2019

The Port of Seattle, along with a growing number of government and industry leaders, recognize that the materials used in constructing our buildings generate pollution even before they arrive on our property. A significant portion of carbon emissions, the pollution that causes global warming, are from operations like lighting, heating, and cooling. At least half of the carbon footprint of these new buildings will take the form of embodied carbon — the emissions generated when building materials are manufactured and transported to the construction site.

Identifying construction techniques that reduce carbon emissions is a key strategy for meeting the Port’s commitment to becoming the greenest and most energy-efficient port in North America. With more than $3.7 billion in capital development underway at SEA to make travel more efficient and enjoyable, the Port is one of the area’s largest investors in our infrastructure.

International Arrivals Facility current under construction at Sea-Tac Airport.
International Arrivals Facility currently under construction at Sea-Tac Airport

We’re the first North American airport to attain carbon certification by Airports Council International for managing and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and we have maintained this certification since 2014. We’re making some of our biggest sustainability gains at a time when we’re taking on the skyrocketing travel demands of the booming region.

On Sept. 23, 2019, the Port of Seattle, along with more than 30 sustainability leaders, announced our collective collaboration in the development of a breakthrough tool, the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (“EC3”) tool. The EC3 tool enables the building industry to transparently measure, compare, and reduce embodied carbon emissions from construction materials.

Developed under the leadership of the Carbon Leadership Forum at the University of Washington, in collaboration with Skanska USA, the University of Washington and key development partner C Change Labs, the Port joined as a pilot partner with $25,000 in funding. Additionally, our environmental and aviation capital development teams are testing the interface and functionality of the tool and providing input to the development team to ensure the EC3 tool is ready for immediate use after its formal release on November 19, 2019 at Greenbuild.

Funding and using the EC3 tool helps the Port adhere to construction sustainability goals established by the Port Commission. The Port of Seattle Commission created a directive to integrate sustainability into capital projects in a way that incorporates six goals into the decision-making processes, including:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy system resilience
  • Protecting public health and the environment
  • Advancing innovation
  • Leveraging partnerships
  • Supporting local economic development
  • Advancing racial and social justice

The Port has long focused on operational carbon, but now we can now incorporate embodied carbon to transform how we invest and build our infrastructure.

North Satellite Modernization Project currently underway at Sea-Tac Airport.
North Satellite Modernization Project currently underway at Sea-Tac Airport

We’re the only public agency participating in the pilot because we see the potential of the EC3 tool to reduce the embodied carbon in our construction projects for new and renovated facilities. It’s also a way for us to signal to the market that we want lower carbon construction materials for future construction projects.

Learn more about how the airport is growing to meet regional demand and protect our environment, and visit EC3's BuildingTransparency.org to register for access to the EC3 tool.
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