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HOK’s Commitment to Zero-Carbon Design

Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions—28 percent from operations and 11 percent from embodied carbon. To reduce carbon emissions associated with building design and construction, HOK has signed on to both the AIA 2030 Commitment and the SE 2050 Challenge.

AIA 2030

As a leader in sustainable design, HOK was one of the first design firms to sign onto the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) challenge calling for all new buildings and renovations to be able to operate without energy derived from fossil fuels by 2030. A decade after signing that 2010 commitment, HOK’s projects tracked a firm-wide 54.9 percent reduction of energy use intensity from the baseline level established by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) and other building energy benchmarking databases and industry data. At the midway point, this placed HOK ahead of many of our industry peers and above the AIA average in terms of energy reduction. Still, much work remains.

“HOK recognizes that transparency is key to the success of the 2030 program, and we acknowledge the importance of tracking and sharing results,” said Anica Landreneau, director of sustainability. “The AIA 2030 Commitment poses additional challenges for firms like HOK working on large and complex projects, including hospitals, labs, airports, stadiums and major renovations. It’s a challenge we embrace, and we are pleased to report we are on track to achieve our goal of a carbon-neutral portfolio by 2030.”

Significant HOK projects recently recognized for their energy performance and sustainability include the Kentucky International Convention Centerin Louisville (LEED Silver); Bay Meadows Urban Village in San Mateo, California (LEED Gold); Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (LEED Platinum); and the NewYork-Presbyterian David H. Koch Center, which was the first project in New York state to achieve LEED Gold under the more stringent LEED Healthcare rating system.

SE 2050

In late 2019, the Carbon Leadership Forum created the Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge (SE 2050) aimed at inspiring structural engineers, architects, developers and building owners to eliminate embodied carbon from buildings. This challenge especially targets structural systems which, due to their dependence on carbon-heavy steel and concrete, can represent more than half of the embodied carbon in a building project. Embodied carbon considers how many greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released in creating and transporting building materials.

As a signatory to SE 2050, HOK is committed to reducing the embodied carbon in our building projects. We make progress toward this goal by conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) on structures for new whole building projects and using the information obtained from these evaluations to select and optimize systems and specifications. The LCAs also inform future reduction targets.

When feasible, HOK’s teams encourage our clients to reuse existing buildings, which often results in cost and time savings during the construction process. This also cuts down on the need for new building materials and structural systems that add embodied carbon emissions.

We continue to work closely with HOK’s structural engineering teams to improve our design tools and workflows to make reducing embodied carbon a priority. This collaboration is challenging designers to become more thoughtful and innovative in rethinking structural grids and spans to address reductions in overall material use and the impact of embodied carbon. At the same time, HOK expects our consultants to conduct LCAs and our manufacturers to provide environmental product declarations for their products and materials.

The building envelope is often the second biggest source of embodied carbon, contributing to approximately 33 percent of the embodied carbon in a typical building. Our facade specialists are exploring new building skin prototypes, such as the Circadian Curtain Wall and Structural eXterior Enclosure, that reduce the amount of carbon-heavy material within the building envelope while improving performance. We will continue to research the embodied carbon of wall assemblies and push to develop new, low-carbon alternatives.

Want to know more about our commitment to reducing carbon in the built environment? Contact HOK Director of Sustainability Anica Landreneau.

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