The objective of this challenge is to develop an innovative solution that will reduce carbon emissions from U.S. buildings (residential or commercial, new or existing). Problem statements can address embodied carbon emissions and/or operational carbon emissions. Innovative solutions should lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions and increased affordability for identified stakeholder groups to obtain new technologies.


Source: GettyImages

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—this contributes to greenhouse gases absorbing and emitting radiation, which warms 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 such as gas), known as operational carbon emissions. Emissions also come from material production and manufacturing, building construction and maintenance, and material end-of-life processing (e.g., separation, disposal, reuse, remanufacturing), known as embodied carbon emissions. Emissions from 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 included.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 transportation—is that buildings have a comparatively slower turnover rate. The average age of U.S. homes and commercial buildings is around 40 years old,5 with projected life expectancies anywhere from 75 to 100 years or more.6 Additionally, the U.S. population is projected to grow 20%–25% between now and 2060,7 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 production and manufacturing, and locally sourcing materials, when possible, to further minimize emissions related to transporting the materials for construction.8

The processes of building material production, building construction and demolition (C&D), and handling at the end of a material’s first use present additional opportunities for embodied decarbonization. Generally, building materials follow a linear economy model, with large amounts of raw material, carbon, and energy inputs, and equally large amounts of waste and emissions as final outputs. In fact, 600 million tons of C&D materials were generated in the United States in 2018, which is twice the amount of municipal solid waste generated that year.9 Demolition contributes 90% of total C&D debris generation.10 Most materials have low recovery and reuse rates that offset the need for new material inputs for construction, demonstrating an opportunity for innovative material reuse. By adopting a more circular approach, known as a circular economy, carbon emissions and waste materials can be reduced. Circular approaches include designing out waste and pollution in extraction, processing, manufacturing, construction, and demolition processes, and keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible.10,11 Specifically for the building sector, circular approaches can include designing buildings for adaptability; optimizing design for reducing building material requirements; recovering, reusing, and recycling materials and systems; and industrializing construction and electrifying construction equipment.

In terms of operational carbon, opportunities for reduction include 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.2 With more renewable sources of energy supporting the grid, electrification can help reduce operational carbon.

It is also important to consider how carbon emissions are accounted for throughout the lifetime of a building. Embodied carbon emissions are released during the construction, renovation, and demolition of a building, whereas operational carbon emissions are released continuously while a building is in operation. For example, 38% of total carbon emissions over the first 10 years for typical new construction built in 2020 will be the embodied carbon released due to construction—the remaining 62% are carbon emissions from operating the building.12 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.13 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. However, there can be cases where the amount of carbon saved by a high-performance building would be less than the carbon emitted to create the building in the first place.14 While life cycle analyses can be used to evaluate the carbon savings, 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. At the same time, substantial financial resources of high socioeconomic people can influence emissions, climate change policy, and mitigation efforts; however, these efforts may or may not be energy or carbon efficient.13 Related research suggests 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.15 Thus, careful consideration is needed to ensure the carbon reduction solutions meet the needs of—and are effective for—the stakeholder group.

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 and/or 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, such as:
    • Retrofitting building strategies that optimize reduction in carbon (operational carbon, embodied carbon, or both)
    • Building demolition practices that reduce waste and embodied carbon
    • Recovering, reusing, and remanufacturing practices for building materials that reduce waste and embodied carbon
    • Repurposing practices for existing commercial buildings for residential use
    • Industrializing on-site building construction processes
    • Site-planning that considers orientation of buildings and distribution of vegetation to improve operations and site material selection to reduce building maintenance.
  • Present solutions with advanced controls that optimize building operation and minimize carbon emissions, such as:
    • Distributed energy resources and management systems and controls
    • Integrating connected lighting systems with plug load controls
    • Automated fault detection and diagnostics.

Student submissions should: 

  • Describe the scope and context of the chosen problem.  
  • Identify affected stakeholders, making sure to research stakeholder backgrounds and understand the stakeholders’ needs, especially regarding the problem.
  • 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 expected carbon reduction analysis, 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. 
  • 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


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. PowerPoint decks or submissions in presentation format do not meet the requirement. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. The quality of writing will be considered, so review by peers is strongly encouraged.

  • 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. 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 one of the three Challenges published for the current competition 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.
    • 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).
    • 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, standards, and/or other.
    • Address the requirements for your selected Challenge as written in the Challenge description. Include graphs, figures, and/or photos. Discuss the feasibility of your solution and how it will impact your stakeholders,
    • 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. It should address the stakeholder needs. It must include one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes, standards, or other.
  • Feasibility: Please rate the solution’s overall feasibility. 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 scalability 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 description and understanding of the market.
  • 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. The cost/benefit analysis may include energy reductions or benefits to occupant health and productivity.
  • Overcoming Adoption Barriers: Please rate the team’s identification of and plan for overcoming at least one key market adoption barrier for the proposed solution. This includes how the solution will create value, both economic and other, to drive industry adoption.

Team Diversity and Understanding Stakeholders (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.
  • Understanding Stakeholders: Please rate how well the team communicates their understanding of the stakeholder group or community and how they are affected by the problem. This rating also includes how well the team defined the problem that needs to be solved by taking into consideration the needs of the stakeholder group or community.

Submission (10%)

  • Submission Requirements: Please rate how well the student team followed all submission requirements. See the submission requirements at the bottom of each challenge description.

How to Create a Successful Submission

We will have two student webinars.

Student Webinar #1

Student Webinar #1

Student Webinar #2

Student Webinar #2


  1. World Green Building Council. 2022. Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
  3. Leung, J. 2018. Decarbonizing U.S. Buildings. Climate Innovation 2050.
  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.
  5. S. Energy Information Administration. 2018. Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) 2018 data.
  6. O’Connor, J. 2004. Survey on Actual Service Lives for North American Buildings. Presented at Woodframe Housing Durability and Disaster Issues conference, Las Vegas.
  7. Vespa, J, Armstrong, D.M., and Medina, L. 2020. Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060. The United States Census. P25-1144.
  8. Strain, L. 2022. 10 steps to reducing embodied carbon. American Institute of Architects.
  9. S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2023. Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials.
  10. World Economic Forum. 2014. Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains.
  11. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation. It’s time for a circular economy.
  12. Carbon Leadership Forum. 2022. Introduction to Embodied Carbon.
  13. Nielsen, K.S., Nicholas, K.A., Creutzig, F., Dietz, T., and Stern, P.C. 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.  
  14. World Business Council for Sustainable Development. 2021. Net-zero buildings: Where do we stand?
  15. Büchs, M and Schnepf, S.V. 2013. Who emits most? Associations Between Socio-Economic Factors and UK Households’ Home Energy, Transport, Indirect and Total CO2Ecological Economics Volume 90: Page 114–123.