Embodied Carbon Cities Policy Toolkit

This resource library was made in partnership with C40 Cities.

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Why Cities Can Lead in Reducing Embodied Carbon

A remarkable amount of activity is underway in the development of policies, regulations, and rating systems related to embodied carbon in buildings and construction. Prioritizing existing buildings, materials, and infrastructure, encouraging the use of low-carbon materials or the efficient use of materials, planning for deconstruction and reuse, reducing waste, and reducing the carbon impact of construction, are all ways that city officials are tackling embodied carbon. Policymakers in cities across the United States are beginning to leverage these reduction strategies as key opportunities to meet climate commitments, bolster innovation in local manufacturing and construction sectors, and improve air quality and health outcomes from cleaner industrial processes.

This resource library is intended for municipal policymakers working to incorporate embodied carbon reductions into their city’s climate action plans and policies. Use the links in each section of the library to access documents that will be valuable resources to strengthen your team's understanding of core concepts, learn about successful policy examples, and find implementation guides that are suited to your city’s existing goals and strategy.

What Is Embodied Carbon?

In the building industry, embodied carbon refers to the sum of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced during the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of construction materials. Embodied carbon is calculated as global warming potential (GWP) and expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent units (CO2e).

Why Is Embodied Carbon a Priority for Cities?

Embodied carbon emissions from the building sector account for at least 11 percent of annual global GHG emissions. While building operational emissions can be reduced by improving energy efficiency and sourcing carbon-free electricity, embodied carbon is a large “burp” of emissions associated with building construction and renovation that cannot be improved over time. As global construction ramps up, urgent action to reduce these emissions is needed to meet climate goals over the next decade.

How Can Policymakers Address Embodied Carbon?

Policymakers can address embodied carbon emissions by developing a climate-aligned embodied carbon reduction goal with policies and programs that focus on low-carbon material procurement, whole-building embodied carbon reduction, building reuse or deconstruction, and clean construction practices. These strategies can be applied through a variety of implementation measures, from awareness campaigns and workforce development programs to incentive programs, building code requirements, and performance standards.

This library aims to provide resources relevant to a broad array of embodied carbon reduction pathways to help your team select appropriate policies based on your city’s unique goals, priorities, timeline, budget, existing relationships, previously developed content, or other relevant efforts.

Please reach out to RMI and C40 Cities for other embodied carbon resources to support your city’s efforts to lead the reduction of embodied carbon in construction:

This resource library was inspired by a 2022 workshop series co-hosted by C40 and RMI for city officials seeking to implement embodied carbon reduction strategies. The resources included in the library were shared by the workshop attendee group and were developed the following organizations: American Institute of Architects, Architecture 2030, Architects Declare, Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, Buildings as Material Banks, Builders for Climate Action, Building Transparency, Carbon Leadership Forum, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, EHDD, Government Alliance on Race and Equity, Greenlining Institute, Mantle Developments, New Buildings Institute, OneClick LCA, Pacific Coast Collaborative, Sustainable Procurement Pledge, and the following municipalities: Austin, TX; Baltimore, MD; Boulder, CO; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Houston, TX; London, England; Milan, Italy; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; San Antonio, TX; Seattle, WA; Toronto, Canada; and Vancouver, Canada.