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Curb Your Carbon

08/15/2022

The objective of this challenge is to develop an innovative solution that will reduce carbon emissions from U.S. buildings (residential, commercial, new, or existing). Student problem statements can focus on embodied carbon, carbon sequestration and storage, and/or operational carbon emissions. Innovative solutions should lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions, and fewer inequalities in obtaining new technologies for identified stakeholder groups.

Background

Source: iStock

Buildings account for about 40% of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide 1. Carbon emissions generally refer to carbon (primarily carbon dioxide—CO2) that is released into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gases that trap heat and warm the planet 2. Energy-related carbon emissions come from a variety of sources including the emissions related to energy consumption in buildings (both electricity and fossil fuels), known as operational carbon emissions, as well as carbon emissions related to material manufacturing and all other construction processes, known as embodied carbon. Residential and commercial buildings in the United States match global trends, with annual operational carbon emissions totaling 29% of all U.S. emissions when the CO2 emissions from the generation and distribution of electricity are factored in 3.

The United States has committed to significantly reducing carbon emissions by 2030 4. A unique characteristic of buildings—when compared to other carbon-emitting sectors such as personal vehicles and transportation—is that buildings have a comparatively slower turnover rate. The average age of U.S. homes and commercial buildings is around 45 years old 2, with projected life expectancies anywhere from 75 to 100 years or more 5. Additionally, the U.S. population is projected to grow 20%–25% between now and 2060,6 which will continue to increase demand for housing and commercial floor space. As with any multifaceted and complex problem, there are many opportunities for solutions addressing carbon reductions in our buildings—both operational and embodied.

The architectural and design community has been focused on employing strategies and processes to reduce embodied carbon for many years. Examples include design practices focused on renovation and reuse of existing buildings and materials, selecting building products that have minimal carbon emissions during manufacturing, and locally sourcing materials when possible, to further minimize emissions related to transporting the materials for construction 7. More recent advancements in materials are unlocking opportunities for carbon sequestering or capturing. For example, concrete blocks are becoming available that are made without the use of cement as a binding ingredient and have CO2 directly injected into the product, thereby permanently sequestering it 8,9.

There are multiple pathways to reducing operational carbon, including energy efficiency and electrification, as well as smart devices and equipment that enable connectivity between devices, buildings, and the electric grid to optimize energy consumption and minimize carbon emissions from the electric grid 2.

It is also important to consider how carbon emissions are accounted for throughout the lifetime of a building. Embodied carbon emissions are released due to the construction or renovation of a building, whereas operational carbon emissions are released continuously. For example, 38% of all carbon emissions over the first 10 years for a typical new construction building built in 2020 will be the embodied carbon released due to construction—the remaining 62% are carbon emissions from operating the building 10. However, when we compare typical new construction to high-performance construction, the story changes. Two-thirds of all carbon emissions over the first 10 years for a high-performance building will be the embodied carbon released due to construction 10. The primary reason for this is the significant reduction in operational carbon emissions from energy efficiency measures taken as part of the high-performance design. In either case, the key take away is that solutions for both embodied and operational carbon are needed.  

Additional research has studied the relationship between carbon emissions and socioeconomic status. Some data suggest that high socioeconomic status may disproportionately contribute to energy-driven carbon emissions related to consumption patterns, and at the same time substantial financial resources of high socioeconomic people can influence emissions and climate change policy and mitigation efforts—not always in positive ways 11. Related research has also shown that although high socioeconomic status may lead to higher consumption rates, these consumption patterns are often related to transport emissions, and lower socioeconomic status people are more likely to contribute to carbon emissions related to households 12. In either case, careful consideration needs to be taken in approaching carbon reduction solutions for specific stakeholder groups—especially vulnerable and historically excluded, underserved, and frontline communities.

The Challenge

This challenge asks student teams to develop an innovative solution that will reduce carbon emissions in buildings. Students can focus on any aspect related to carbon emissions, including but not limited to embodied carbon, carbon sequestration and capture, and operational carbon emissions. Teams should first develop a focused problem statement for a specific stakeholder group and then develop a technical solution or process.

Suggestions for student teams include (but are not limited to) the following: 

  • Create innovative design strategies and practices specifically aimed at reducing embodied carbon.
  • Develop new materials or manufacturing processes that reduce or eliminate carbon emissions, as well as potentially capture and store CO2.
  • Present solutions with advanced controls that optimize building operation and minimize carbon emissions.

Student submissions should: 

  • Describe the scope and context of the chosen problem.  
  • Identify affected stakeholders, making sure to consider socioeconomically vulnerable and historically excluded, underserved, and frontline communities (communities at the “front line” of pollution and climate change7). 
  • Develop a technical solution to the chosen problem for the targeted stakeholder group. The solution may also include policy solutions, supply chain and manufacturing processes, economic solutions, or other aspects critical to identified stakeholder barriers, but a technical solution must be proposed. 
  • Discuss appropriate and expected impacts and benefits of the proposed solution. This should include a cost/benefit analysis, a market adoption analysis, and should also consider non-economic costs and benefits, such as occupant health, productivity, well-being, and others.8 
  • Develop a plan that describes how the team envisions bringing its idea to scale in the market, including sales or distribution channels, outreach mechanisms, stakeholder engagement, and other relevant details.

Downloadable Challenge Description

Additional Challenge Resources

Submission Template

Requirements

Competing in this challenge is open to student teams currently enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges. See the Terms and Conditions and Rules document for eligibility requirements and rules. Please note that you must begin your Building Technologies Internship Program (BTIP) application before or at the same time as you submit your idea in order to compete in the JUMP competition.

Please submit the following as a single-spaced PDF document that is a written narrative of the team’s proposed solution. PowerPoints or submissions in presentation format do not meet the requirement. 

  • Project Team Background (up to 2 pages, single-spaced)
    • Form a team of 2‒4 students. These students represent the project team and will all consult on the problem.
    • The Project Team Background should include:
      • Project name, team name, and collegiate institution(s)
      • Team mission statement
      • A short biography for each team member; this should include information such as major, level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate), and other relevant background information such as experience with building science, future career goals, and formative experiences that shaped each individual’s contribution to the Challenge.
      • Diversity statement (minimum 1 paragraph, 5‒7 sentences): One of JUMP into STEM’s key objectives is to encourage diversity of thought and background in students entering the building science industry. There is a diversity gap in STEM, meaning that certain groups are underrepresented or have been historically excluded from STEM fields. These groups include, but are not limited to, those based on race, ethnicity, and gender—and this gap needs to be addressed. Diversity of thought can be achieved through teams consisting of students from different majors and minors. If there are barriers that affect the racial, ethnic, and/or gender breakdown of your team, please elaborate. As part of the next generation of building science thought leaders and researchers, you have a unique opportunity to influence this industry. The diversity statement is your opportunity to describe your team’s diversity of background and thought, both generally and as applicable to your chosen Challenge.
    • The Project Team Background does not count toward the 5-page Project Challenge Submission.
  • Project Challenge Submission (up to 5 pages, single-spaced)
    • Select 1 of the 3 Challenges to address.
    • Investigate the background of the Challenge and consider related stakeholders. Stakeholders are those who are affected by the problem, a part of the supply chain, or manufacturing of the technology product(s), as well as those who may have decision-making power and are able to provide solutions (technical or nontechnical solutions, such as policies). For example, you could include stakeholders who have previously experienced environmental pollution or a high energy burden. Refer to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Justice and Environmental Justice
    • Write a 1- to 2-paragraph problem statement, focusing on a specific aspect of the problem and the stakeholder groups affected by or involved in the problem. The stakeholder groups can be from a specific location, socioeconomic status, age, or demographic (e.g., people living in subsidized housing). The problem statement should clearly identify the injustices (energy or environmental) that the stakeholder group experiences. Students should consider social implications related to the identified injustices.
    • Develop and describe a novel solution that addresses or solves the specific problem from your problem statement. The solution must be technical and also include one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, and/or other.
    • Address the requirements for your selected Challenge as written in the Challenge description. Include graphs, figures, and photos. Discuss the feasibility of your solution and how it will impact your stakeholders, especially those who have experienced the injustices that you described in your problem statement.
    • Develop a technology-to-market plan. A technology-to-market plan describes how the team envisions bringing its idea from concept to installation on real buildings, or integrated into the design of real buildings, and includes a cost/benefit analysis.
      • The cost/benefit analysis does not need to be exhaustive and should include comparing the solution to current or existing technologies or practices. Benefits, such as building energy reductions and improved occupant health or productivity, should be evaluated.
      • The plan should also discuss which key stakeholder(s) should be involved to commercialize the technology and then sell and install the technologies with your target market(s).
    • Perform a market adoption barrier The team should identify at least one key market adoption barrier for implementation and specifically address how the proposed solution will overcome that barrier.
      • Barriers should align with key stakeholder(s) identified by the student team.
    • Include references. References will not count toward the 5-page maximum.
  • Appendix (optional, no page limit)
    • Teams may wish to add an appendix. This is optional and might not be reviewed by the judges.
    • The appendix has no page limit.

Evaluation Criteria

Solution (40%)

  • Solution: Please rate the solution and its ability to address the problem statement. The solution must be a technical solution and include one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, or other. How well does the proposed solution address the problem and stakeholder needs?
  • Feasibility: Please rate the solution’s overall feasibility and potential, including its viability. For example, solutions that are not technically possible or that lack a technical feasibility discussion will receive lower scores. 
  • Novelty: Please rate the originality and creativity of the solution and how significant the contribution will be to the building industry. 
  • Impact: Please rate the overall potential impact of the team’s solution. For example, can the solution be extended to communities, similar stakeholder groups, or a nationwide solution? 

Market Readiness (30%)

  • Market Characterization: Please rate the team’s understanding of the market and the stakeholder group(s) identified by the problem statement. 
  • Technology-to-Market: Please rate the team’s proposed plan to bring the solution from a paper concept to installation or integration with real buildings or building designs, and the team’s cost/benefit analysis. 
  • Overcoming Adoption Barriers: Please rate the team’s identification of and plan for overcoming adoption barriers for proposed solution. This includes how the solution will create value, both economic and other, to drive industry adoption. 

Diversity and Justice (20%)

  • Diversity Statement and Project Team Background: Please rate how well the team addresses the diversity gap in the building science industry in its diversity statement. This includes how the team brings perspectives from a variety of backgrounds, including students from groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This also includes students from many different disciplines—ensuring diversity of thought. See the diversity statement in the Challenge requirements. This also includes how well the teams connect their mission statement and biographies to their problem statement. 
  • Environmental and Energy Justice: Please rate how well the proposed solution addresses environmental and energy justice. 

Submission (10%)

  • Submission Requirements: Please rate how well the student team followed all submission requirements. See the submission paper requirements section of this rules document and at the bottom of each Challenge description. 

How to Create a Successful Submission

Citations

  1. World Green Building Council. 2022. “Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront.” https://www.worldgbc.org/embodied-carbon.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.
  3. Leung, Jessica. 2018. “Decarbonizing U.S. Buildings.” Climate Innovation 2050. https://www.c2es.org/document/decarbonizing-u-s-buildings/
  4. The White House. 2021. “President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/22/fact-sheet-president-biden-sets-2030-greenhouse-gas-pollution-reduction-target-aimed-at-creating-good-paying-union-jobs-and-securing-u-s-leadership-on-clean-energy-technologies/.
  5. O’Connor, Jennifer. “Survey on Actual Service Lives for North American Buildings.” Presented at Woodframe Housing Durability and Disaster Issues conference, Las Vegas, October 2004. https://cwc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/DurabilityService_Life_E.pdf.
  6. Vespa, Jonathan, Lauren Medina, and David M. Armstrong. 2020. Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060. The United States Census. P25-1144. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p25-1144.html.
  7. Strain, Larry. “10 steps to reducing embodied carbon.” 2022. https://www.aia.org/articles/70446-ten-steps-to-reducing-embodied-carbon.
  8. CarbiCrete. 2022. https://carbicrete.com.  
  9. Echohome. 2021. “Carbon Negative Concrete Goes into Pioneering ‘Green’ CMU Blocks – Quebec Leads the Way!” https://www.ecohome.net/news/1514/carbon-negative-concrete-cmu-blocks-quebec-leads-the-way/.  
  10. Carbon Leadership Forum. 2022. “Introduction to Embodied Carbon.” https://carbonleadershipforum.org/toolkit-1-introduction/
  11. Nielsen, K.S., K.A. Nicholas, F. Creutzig, et al. 2021. “The Role of High-Socioeconomic-Status People in Locking In or Rapidly Reducing Energy-Driven Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Nature Energy Volume 6: Pages 1011–1016. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-021-00900-y.  
  12. Büchs, Milena, Sylke V. Schnepf. 2013. “Who emits most? Associations Between Socio-Economic Factors and UK Households’ Home Energy, Transport, Indirect and Total CO2 Emissions.” Ecological Economics Volume 90: Page 114–123. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800913000980.

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