Carbon Emissions and Building Structure: What the Structural Engineer Needs to Know about Carbon in the 21st Century

April 29, 2011

The contribution of carbon emissions to the increase in the global average temperature is well established. It is nearly universally accepted that significant decreases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions must be realized in the near future, or the global community will face very troublesome and possibly even catastrophic climate related impacts. Civil engineers have a professional duty to abide by the code of ethics adopted by ASCE. The first principle states Engineers uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by: a) using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment. The first canon instructs us that Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties. To these ends, structural engineers are tasked with finding ways to reduce the climate impacts of structures. This paper provides information on the currently available data pertaining to the carbon impacts of concrete and steel. The focus is on how to use the available data to make informed choices to minimize the climate impact of the material aspects of structural design. The first step is to understand the impacts, their relative intensities, and a little bit about climate science. The Carbon Working Group is dedicated to making this information available and usable.

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