Embodied Carbon Policies and Codes to Consider in Early Building Design 

As the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry keeps its eye on the 2030 Commitment, steps towards reducing embodied carbon in building products are becoming more common. 

In those steps, policies and codes are being created to help guide AEC professionals in their journey towards a greener future. 

With cove.tool’s mission towards building better buildings, our database allows users to incorporate these innovations into their building design to meet and exceed code requirements.  

The following highlights a few important, national standards that offer substantial benefits for AEC professionals.  

Let’s explore. 

Buy Clean California 

"Buy Clean California" is a policy that aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the production of certain building materials. 

The policy's goal is to minimize the carbon footprint of building materials used in state-funded construction projects. It specifically targets the "embodied carbon" within materials, which is the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. 

Buy Clean California applies to state-funded projects within California, including those managed by state agencies, the University of California (UC), and California State University (CSU) systems. 

The policy sets Global Warming Potential (GWP) limits for certain materials, focusing initially on structural steel, concrete reinforcing steel, and mineral wool board insulation. GWP limits are likely to expand to other materials as the policy develops. 

These limits are based on the materials' Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which are standardized documents detailing the environmental impact of a product. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Competitive Advantage

Manufacturers who produce lower-carbon materials may have an edge in bidding for state projects, as their products will follow the policy. 

Innovation Drive

The policy encourages innovation in manufacturing processes to reduce carbon emissions, potentially leading to more efficient and sustainable production methods. 

Market Differentiation

Companies can differentiate themselves in the market by positioning their products as eco-friendly and compliant with environmental standards, appealing to a growing segment of environmentally conscious consumers. 

Alignment with Sustainability Goals

Architects and engineers can align their designs with sustainability goals, potentially leading to a more favorable reception from clients and the public and contributing to a larger global effort to reduce carbon emissions. 

Financial Incentives

There may be financial incentives or tax breaks for companies that invest in cleaner production technologies or for projects that utilize materials with lower embodied carbon. 

Educational Opportunities

The policy could lead to increased awareness and education regarding sustainable materials and practices within the industry. 


By adopting practices that reduce embodied carbon now, AEC professionals will be ahead of the curve, as it's likely that similar policies will become more widespread in the future. 

The "Buy Clean California" policy is both a regulatory requirement and an opportunity for AEC professionals to lead in the sustainable transformation of the built environment. It promotes the use of materials with lower embodied carbon, which benefits the environment and can offer a competitive advantage to forward-thinking professionals and manufacturers. 

Denver Green Code 

"Denver Green Code" is a set of guidelines and regulations designed to promote sustainability in building design, construction, and operation. Here's how you can explain its Embodied Carbon Policy/Code to an architect, engineer, or building product manufacturer, and the potential benefits it offers.

While it's a voluntary code, it signifies a commitment to environmental stewardship and can be seen as a mark of sustainability leadership in the industry. 

The policy sets specific Global Warming Potential (GWP) limits for concrete and steel, two of the most common and structurally significant materials in construction, which are also significant sources of industrial carbon emissions. 

Compliance with the GWP limits is typically demonstrated through EPDs, which quantify the environmental impacts of a product throughout its lifecycle. 

The policy encourages a lifecycle approach to building design, considering the environmental impact from material extraction through to construction and beyond. 

By engaging with the "Denver Green Code" and its Embodied Carbon Policy, AEC professionals not only contribute to the sustainability of their projects but also invest in the future of their practice and the planet. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Leadership in Sustainability

By adopting the Denver Green Code, professionals can position themselves as leaders in sustainable design and construction practices. 

Market Advantage

As the industry trends towards green building, companies that are early adopters of such policies may gain a competitive advantage. 

Innovation and Efficiency

The need to meet specific GWP limits drives innovation in material production and may lead to more efficient building techniques and material utilization. 

Long-Term Cost Savings

While the initial investment in low-carbon materials might be higher, they can lead to long-term cost savings through energy efficiency and potential tax incentives. 

Regulatory Preparedness

Even though the code is currently voluntary, adopting it proactively prepares firms for potential future regulations, minimizing disruption to their business. 

Enhanced Reputation

Implementing sustainable practices enhances a firm’s reputation, which can lead to new business opportunities with clients who value environmental responsibility. 

Educational Development

Engaging with the Green Code encourages continuous learning and development within firms, ensuring that staff stay knowledgeable about the latest in sustainable practices. 

Alignment with Broader Goals

Compliance with the code aligns with broader environmental objectives, such as those outlined in the Paris Agreement and by local governments, reflecting a commitment to global and community wellbeing. 

Portland Low Carbon Concrete Initiative  

The "Portland Low Carbon Concrete Initiative" is a targeted policy aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of construction projects by focusing on one of the most ubiquitous building materials: concrete.

The initiative sets specific Global Warming Potential (GWP) limits for concrete used in city construction projects. GWP is a measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere up to a specific time horizon, relative to carbon dioxide. 

The initiative applies to concrete used in municipal construction projects, meaning any project that is funded by or for the city must comply with these GWP limits. 

To comply with the initiative, AEC professionals will need to use concrete products that have verified EPDs demonstrating that the GWP is within the specified limits. 

The policy encourages the use of innovative concrete mixes, including those with supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) like fly ash, slag, or calcined clays that have lower carbon footprints than traditional Portland cement. 

In essence, the "Portland Low Carbon Concrete Initiative" not only represents a step towards more sustainable construction practices but also offers a framework for AEC professionals to innovate, gain a competitive advantage, and align with global sustainability trends. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Environmental Leadership

By adhering to the initiative, AEC professionals can demonstrate environmental leadership and commitment to sustainable practices. 

Innovation and Competitive Edge

This initiative can spur innovation in concrete production, leading to advanced materials and practices that give companies a competitive edge. 


With the global push towards sustainability, adopting low-carbon concrete early on can future-proof a business against stricter regulations down the line. 

Cost Savings

Although the initial cost may be higher, low-carbon concrete can lead to long-term savings by reducing the carbon tax burden and leveraging incentives for sustainable practices. 

Market Differentiation

Companies that supply or utilize low-carbon concrete can differentiate themselves in the market, appealing to clients with environmental objectives. 

Compliance Advantages

AEC professionals who are knowledgeable about and compliant with the initiative can navigate city contracting more effectively, potentially leading to more business opportunities. 

Reputation and Brand Value

Commitment to lower GWP materials enhances a firm's reputation, aligning with the values of environmentally conscious clients, employees, and communities. 

Contribution to Climate Goals

By reducing embodied carbon in concrete, AEC professionals contribute to broader climate action goals, aligning with societal efforts to mitigate climate change. 

New Jersey Buy Clean 

The "New Jersey Buy Clean" initiative is a policy designed to incentivize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry, with a specific focus on concrete — a major contributor to industrial carbon emissions. Below is a simplified explanation of the policy tailored for architects, engineers, and building product manufacturers, as well as the potential benefits of the initiative: 

The policy sets Global Warming Potential (GWP) limits for concrete used in state-funded projects. GWP is a metric that measures the amount of heat a greenhouse gas emits over a specific period, compared to carbon dioxide. 

The initiative offers financial incentives to encourage the use of low-carbon materials. A 5% bid discount is given to projects that exceed the GWP limits, making them more competitively priced and attractive. 

There is a further 3% discount for bids that incorporate carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies. CCUS is seen as a key technology for decarbonizing industries such as cement and concrete production. 

Concrete producers who go beyond the required standards can receive up to an 8% credit. This not only promotes overperformance but also recognizes and rewards producers for leading the way in low-carbon concrete production. 

 The "New Jersey Buy Clean" embodied carbon policy/code not only provides a structured approach to reducing carbon emissions but also offers tangible benefits that can lead to cost savings, enhanced reputation, and a stronger competitive position in an increasingly environmentally aware market. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Financial Incentives

The bid discounts and credits provide a direct financial incentive for AEC professionals to source and use low-carbon concrete products. 

Market Leadership

By exceeding the GWP limits, professionals can establish themselves as market leaders in sustainability, appealing to a growing base of eco-conscious clients. 

Innovation Encouragement

The policy encourages innovation in material science and construction techniques, leading to the development of new, more sustainable practices. 

Regulatory Compliance

Early adoption of these practices ensures compliance with current regulations and prepares firms for potential future tightening of environmental standards. 

Enhanced Brand Reputation: Participation in the "New Jersey Buy Clean" initiative enhances a company's reputation as an environmentally responsible business. 

Competitive Advantage

The discounts can give AEC professionals a competitive edge in the bidding process for state-funded projects, potentially leading to more business opportunities. 

Contribution to Environmental Goals

By adhering to the policy, professionals are directly contributing to the reduction of the industry's carbon footprint, aligning with broader environmental and climate action goals. 

Forward-Thinking Design and Construction

This policy drives architects and engineers to think forward by integrating sustainability into the very core of their design and construction processes. 


The "CALGreen" or California Green Building Standards Code is California's building code that sets forth requirements intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and water use, thereby enabling California to meet its ambitious climate and sustainability goals.  

When explaining the "CALGreen" Embodied Carbon Policy/Code, particularly as it pertains to projects over 100,000 square feet, here’s how you might articulate it to an architect, engineer, or building product manufacturer: 

"CALGreen" targets large-scale projects (over 100,000 square feet) with the intent of reducing the embodied carbon in building materials. Embodied carbon refers to the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport, construction, and disposal of building materials. 

There are multiple avenues for compliance: 

Building Reuse

Maintaining a certain percentage of the existing building structure conserves resources and reduces waste and emissions associated with new construction materials. 

Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Conducting a comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a building's materials over its entire life cycle

Specific GWP Limits

Adhering to established GWP limits for selected products would require using materials that produce fewer emissions during their lifecycle. 

"CALGreen" offers a multifaceted approach to reducing the embodied carbon in construction, providing AEC professionals with opportunities to innovate, save costs, and align with environmental objectives, all while preparing for a future where such practices are likely to be standard. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Flexibility in Compliance

The variety of compliance options allows professionals to choose the path that best aligns with their project goals and expertise. 

Incentive for Innovation

The policy encourages the development of new materials and construction methods that could lead to industry-wide changes and new market opportunities. 

Market Differentiation

Professionals who successfully adopt these standards can market their expertise in sustainable building, differentiating themselves in a competitive industry. 

Alignment with Sustainability Goals

By complying with "CALGreen," AEC professionals are directly contributing to California's sustainability initiatives, which could enhance their reputation and appeal to environmentally conscious clients. 

Cost Savings

Over the long term, building reuse and more efficient materials can lead to significant cost savings in terms of reduced material costs and potential operational savings. 

Regulatory Preparedness

As sustainability becomes more central to building codes nationwide, early adoption of "CALGreen" standards can prepare professionals for future regulations. 

Enhanced Building Performance

Buildings designed with lower embodied carbon often have better performance in terms of energy efficiency and resource conservation. 

Contribution to Public Health

Reduced carbon emissions contribute to better air quality and public health, aligning the interests of AEC professionals with those of the community. 

ASHRAE 189.1  

"ASHRAE 189.1" is a standard for the design of high-performance green buildings, apart from low-rise residential buildings. It provides criteria for the design, construction, and operation of buildings to minimize environmental impacts while ensuring healthy environments for occupants. Here's how to explain the Embodied Carbon aspect of the ASHRAE 189.1 standard and its benefits: 

The standard requires Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for at least 30 different building products. These EPDs are comprehensive reports that document the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifecycle. 

For a minimum of 10 building products, and enough products to constitute 15% or 20% (depending on jurisdiction) of the total product costs, the Global Warming Potential (GWP) must not exceed 125% of the industry-wide (IW) EPD benchmark. 

For products that represent 5% or more of the material costs, the standard demands closer adherence to GWP limits, thereby focusing on the most significant contributors to the project's carbon footprint. 

ASHRAE 189.1's Embodied Carbon policy encourages AEC professionals to integrate sustainable practices into their work, offering long-term benefits such as market differentiation, regulatory compliance, cost savings, and alignment with global sustainability trends. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Sustainability Credentials

By complying with ASHRAE 189.1, professionals can bolster their sustainability credentials, showcasing their commitment to environmentally responsible building practices. 

Regulatory Alignment

As jurisdictions increasingly adopt stringent environmental codes, familiarity with and adherence to ASHRAE 189.1 can facilitate smoother regulatory approval processes. 

Innovation and Market Leadership

The need to meet specific GWP limits drives innovation in materials science, potentially leading to more sustainable products and practices that can provide a competitive market advantage. 

Enhanced Building Performance

Buildings designed to ASHRAE 189.1 standards often demonstrate improved performance, which can lead to reduced operating costs and increased asset value over time. 

Cost Management

Professionals can more effectively manage the financial impact of complying with sustainability standards by focusing on the GWP of products that make up significant portions of project costs. 

Broader Environmental Impact

Through compliance, professionals contribute to broader environmental goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which can enhance their reputation among clients and the public. 

Future-proofing Projects

Buildings designed and constructed with future standards in mind will be relevant for a longer period, reducing the need for costly retrofits to meet evolving codes. 

Educational Development

Engaging with ASHRAE 189.1 requirements promotes continuous learning and professional development, keeping firms at the forefront of industry knowledge. 

Austin Green Building Program 

The "Austin Green Building Program" is an initiative by the city of Austin, Texas, that aims to lead the transformation of the built environment to a sustainable future. It includes a rating system that awards credits or points for various environmentally friendly building practices. When it comes to Embodied Carbon Policy/Code, here's a way to explain it: 

The program encourages a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment, which analyzes the cumulative environmental impacts of a building's materials over their entire lifespan, from extraction and manufacturing to disposal or recycling. 

Credits are awarded for strategies that reduce the embodied carbon of construction materials. Embodied carbon refers to the CO2 emissions associated with the production, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. 

The Austin Green Building Program uses a rating system where buildings accumulate points for sustainable practices, including those that reduce embodied carbon. Higher points lead to higher ratings, which can enhance a building's marketability and appeal. 

Additionally, the Austin Green Building Program Embodied Carbon Policy/Code incentivizes and recognizes the efforts of AEC professionals to reduce the environmental impact of their projects, which can lead to multiple benefits such as regulatory compliance, market competitiveness, and financial incentives, all while contributing positively to the fight against climate change. 

Benefits for AEC Professionals: 

Sustainability Leadership: Participation in the program positions AEC professionals as leaders in sustainability, potentially attracting clients who prioritize environmental responsibility. 

Market Differentiation

By earning credits for reducing embodied carbon, AEC professionals can differentiate their projects and firms in a competitive market. 

Regulatory Alignment

Understanding and applying the program's standards can facilitate compliance with other environmental regulations and prepare professionals for future sustainability requirements. 

Financial Incentives

High-rated buildings may qualify for various incentives, including tax rebates and expedited permitting, which can result in cost savings. 

Reputation and Recognition

Achieving a high rating within the Austin Green Building Program can enhance a firm's reputation, showcasing its commitment to green building practices. 

Innovation Incentive

The program encourages innovation in material usage and construction techniques, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and efficiency. 

Educational Growth

Working within the program promotes ongoing learning about sustainable building practices, which can increase a professional's value in the industry. 

Long-term Value

Sustainable buildings often command higher resale values and can have lower operating costs, providing financial benefits to owners and occupants. 

Other Codes to Consider: 

The dynamic landscape of embodied carbon policies and codes offers a significant opportunity for AEC professionals to lead the industry towards a more sustainable future.  

Tools like cove.tool enable integration of these evolving standards into early building design, ensuring compliance and fostering innovation. Policies such as "Buy Clean California," the "Denver Green Code," and initiatives like the "Portland Low Carbon Concrete Initiative" not only set the groundwork for reducing the carbon footprint of construction materials but also open avenues for competitive advantage, market differentiation, and alignment with global sustainability goals.  

Similarly, standards like "CALGreen" and "ASHRAE 189.1," and programs like the "Austin Green Building Program," provide frameworks for reducing embodied carbon while enhancing building performance and operational efficiency. As we move towards 2030 and beyond, embracing these policies and codes is not just a regulatory requirement but a strategic business decision that aligns with the environmental ethos of our times.  

AEC professionals who adapt early to these changes will not only contribute to a greener planet but also position themselves at the forefront of an evolving industry, ready to meet the challenges of a sustainable future. 


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