Buro Happold’s SE 2050 commitment calls for zero embodied carbon in all future projects.

Buro Happold is the newest signatory to the SE 2050 Commitment Program, which unites structural engineering firms around a common goal of halving embodied carbon emissions from their projects by 2050.

The pledge, spearheaded by the American Society of Civil Engineers Structural Engineering Institute (SEI), focuses on emissions associated with structural systems, construction, and material use.

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This accounts for the lion’s share of a building’s embodied carbon footprint, typically around 50%. In contrast, the two most commonly used structural materials – steel and concrete – account for nearly 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions combined.

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According to Buro Happold principal Stephen Curtis, structural engineers can have the most significant impact in the race to achieve a net-zero built environment by 2050 and contribute to keeping global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Buro Happold
Buro Happold

“To date, there has been a strong emphasis on operational carbon,” he told Dezeen. “Because structural engineers have a greater ability to influence embodied carbon, that is our primary focus.”

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“This is not merely a matter of concrete and steel.”

Buro Happold has already committed to halving its projects’ embodied carbon footprint by 2030.

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By joining the Structural Engineers 2050 Commitment Program, the firm has committed to measuring, reducing, and eventually eliminating all embodied carbon emissions from structural systems in its projects by 2050.

The program, which already includes Arup and SOM among its 69 signatories, provides engineering practices with the resources and guidance necessary to accomplish this goal and offset any emissions that are too difficult to eliminate.

Buro Happold says this process will entail replacing and reducing polluting materials in its projects and educating the numerous other stakeholders involved in the construction process, from clients to planners and architects.

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“This is a much bigger issue than concrete and steel,” Curtis explained. “For a long time, structural engineers have mandated cement substitution in concrete and recycled steel content in the steel.”

Buro Happold
Buro Happold

“We recognise that we will need to educate and explain to other stakeholders on our projects why this issue is critical and what may be viable alternate options, such as timber construction or other alternate technologies,” he added.

To this end, we intend to conduct comparative embodied carbon assessments of our structural design options during the initial stages of the project, incorporating carbon into the decision-making process.

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Architecture lags behind other industries in terms of technological advancements.

The SE 2050 Commitment Program was developed in response to a challenge issued in 2019 by the Carbon Leadership Forum, a non-profit organisation based at the University of Washington dedicated to dramatically reducing embodied carbon in the built environment through collective action.

On the other hand, as signatories of Structural Engineers Declare, more than 234 British structural engineers and their firms – including Buro Happold – have set their net-zero carbon targets.


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