Episode 46

C.A.R.E. Tool

A consortium of concerned built-environment professionals created the CARE tool enabling users to compare the total carbon impacts of renovating an existing building vs. replacing it with a new one. Listen in to this fast-paced conversation with Erin McDade from Architecture 2030 and Lori Ferriss from Goody Clancy, describing the CARE tool features and benefits to effect climate action in the build environment.

Featured on the Show
"The implications are pretty huge, because when you look at decarbonizing the building sector, reusing existing buildings is the best opportunity we have to save the most carbon. Because if we're building new buildings, we're emitting carbon to build the buildings. And with all the existing buildings we currently have operating, by far, the vast majority of them are emitting GHGs in their operating process."


CCB: [00:00:02] Welcome to the ONEder podcast. This is your host, CCB. And today's conversation is with one of our 2022 ONEder Grant Award winners. And I say one, but it's actually a combination of a number of folks that collaborated on this particular project. And interestingly, it's the only project that the ONEder Grant has funded more than once. So, we have been very committed to and interested in the outcomes of this, the work of this particular team. I'm very happy to introduce or welcome Erin McDade and Laurie Ferris to the ONEder Podcast, and I'm going to have each one of them introduce themselves and kind of give an overview of what their role was on the project. I'm going to start with Erin. Erin, thank you for joining us.

Erin McDade: [00:00:54] Well, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here to talk about the CARE tool, which is the name of the project. So my name is Erin McDade and I'm the senior program director for Architecture 2030, which is now the organization that has taken ownership, if you will, of the CARE tool. And for people who might not know, just really briefly, Architecture 2030 is a nonprofit working internationally to decarbonize the built environment as a means of addressing the climate crisis.

CCB: [00:01:25] Fantastic. Lori, welcome back.

Lori Ferris: [00:01:28] Thanks. So happy to join you again. I'm Lori Ferris. I am the regenerative renewal practice leader at Goody Clancy, an architecture firm in Boston. And I've been collaborating on the tool, on the CARE tool, really, in the capacity of someone who works on restoring, and renewing existing and heritage buildings as a climate action measure. So really kind of bringing that perspective of how this can be implemented in practice, in planning, really by users.

CCB: [00:01:57] The project from a ONEder grant perspective came to us initially from Siegel and Strain, and that was Larry Strain who’s another one of the major contributors to the project. And originally it was called, what was it called?

Erin McDade: [00:02:14] It was called the To Build or Not to Build Calculator, right?

CCB: [00:02:19] Which was a mouthful. And I would love for you to kind of take us back the history of why as you're going to be explaining what it's turned into. So it's a kind of a very extensive story that you'll be sharing with us.

Erin McDade: [00:02:38] Yeah, I mean, there's a lot there so from a purely project perspective, like you said, this was really started by Larry Strain, ah, the third member of the CARE team here who is an architect and was approached by folks from a major campus in California saying, we have all these buildings and we're in this, we're at a decision point of do we try to renovate them to meet our needs or do we tear them down and build new buildings. And we have a climate action plan and obviously environmental considerations on our campus. And we just don't know if it makes more sense from a carbon perspective to reuse these buildings or not. What's the tool that we should use to check that out? And Larry thought about it and said, I don't think there is a tool for that. And so, as all of us in the world are wont to do with our development of new tools left and right, he said, I'll go make one. And so, he put together a pretty rudimentary Excel calculator. I think he'd be fine with me calling it pretty rudimentary. And he kind of started shopping it around and I sat next to him and in Chicago in 2019, I remember very specifically the conference room we were in because Architecture 2030 was hosting a Built Environment summit, and he showed me the calculator and I got really excited by it. I'm kind of a data nerd. While I have a background in architecture, I have become one of the data leads, the main data people at architecture 2030 and that was really my role in the CARE tool. And I got really excited by the embodied carbon side of the data that he had worked on. And I said I can also add a bunch for the operational carbon side. There are really two pieces to looking at emissions from a building. And it kind of just went from there. And Lori, I don't know if you want to chime in and talk about when you joined the project, but you were a critical edition with a preservation background.

Lori Ferris: [00:04:35] Yeah. So I joined the project shortly after that. I guess I'll pick it up in 2019. I think I joined the team in early 2020, just around the time of the first ONEder grant that we received. And yeah, my role was really to kind of help expand the embodied carbon side, mostly around existing building re-use because there has been so much over the course, over the timeline that we're talking about this project, there's been a lot of development of data as well around embodied carbon. And I think the practice of lifecycle assessment has really been there's been a large uptake, but there's still a huge gap around existing buildings and understanding what the carbon footprint of existing buildings, or what the avoided impact of reusing existing buildings is. So that's. a lot of my role has been in really understanding the ways in which we do and can reuse buildings to maximize their climate benefits and then to try and get our hands on data or develop data if there isn't any to put numbers to that.

CCB: [00:05:32] So we're going to say on the web page of the ONEder Grant section under this particular Siegel & Strain grant, because that's the name that it's under, we'll have access and links to Architecture 2030 and to the CARE tool itself and to the CARE website, which is pretty impressive. And it starts to help people understand very effectively that this is an ongoing effort, and that you will continue to collect more information and add more features to the tool. And so how about if you let us know where you are today and then we can kind of talk about where it's moving in the future?

Erin McDade: [00:06:15] Sure. So, we were really excited that at the end of at the close of the ONEder Grant and we were lucky to get some additional funding this last year to support the tool that we were able to officially launch the online app version of the CARE tool. So, you know, in the intervening time between 2019 and today, we have taken that Excel calculator and obviously done not only a ton of robust backend work on the data, but also on developing this web app with the online interface and the supporting website that you mentioned. And so where we are today is that we have a, in my opinion, pretty easy to use and to understand, free open-source calculator on the website CARE tool dot org and users can go in. You don't even have to have a very in depth understanding of the building sector and the built environment. Users can go in, enter some pretty basic information about where their project is located, what the size of the project is and the use type and some other information about maybe if there's energy bills that they have. So we can look at how the current building is operating, and then go in and enter a few pieces of information about how they might upgrade the building if they decide not to build a new building or if they were to decide to build a new building, what that new building might look at or look like. And then pretty quickly, I'd say within ten or 15 minutes, it outputs, the tool outputs, results that show if it makes more carbon sense for whatever time frame the user put in to, to build new or to reuse an existing building.

Erin McDade: [00:07:53] And that's it from a pretty basic perspective. But obviously the implications are that are pretty, pretty huge because when you look at decarbonizing the building sector, reusing existing buildings is really kind of the best opportunity that we have to save the most carbon. Because if we're building new buildings, we're emitting carbon to build the buildings. And with all of the existing buildings we currently have operating, most of them by far, the vast majority of them are emitting GHGs in their operating process. And so if we renovate them to get rid of those emissions, we not only are getting rid of those operating emissions, but we're saving all of that embodied carbon that we would have used to build new. So this is a critical climate solution. And so, I mean, I'll let Lori talk about our long and ever-growing list of kind of enhancements we want to do the tool because the potential is enormous. But from a basic perspective, one of our biggest goals, I think, is to try to turn the tool into not just looking at a single building at a time, but having the ability to look at the entire building portfolio. So an entire campus kind of going back to the origin of the tool for from Larry's perspective to also potentially being a policy making or planning application for cities and for entire regions to start looking at the best way to evaluate and reuse and really take advantage of the carbon that they do have stored in their building stock.

CCB: [00:09:25] Okay, Lori, what do you have to say?

Laurie Ferris: [00:09:27] Well, I think that that's a great description of where we are now with the tool that we have available. And I think we've been receiving a lot of feedback, which is great from people who are starting to use the tool. And a few themes are emerging for what people would like to see next, which are pretty aligned with what we had with what the development team had been thinking of. And as Erin mentioned, the portfolio feature is one that's really important to really kind of fully capitalize on the planning potential of this tool. Obviously, this is a problem of scale when we're talking about decarbonizing the built environment. So being able to use the tool to look at an entire district or neighborhood or city or campus is really, really powerful. But then we've also heard, you know, questions about scaling down to single-family residence. That's a huge, you know, a huge portion of this where the data we originally had, and most benchmarking data around carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that we had available is related to commercial construction. Specifically, embodied carbon data is related to commercial construction. And so, that's where we started. And but we've heard a lot of people say, well, what about houses? What about if, you know, obviously we're all remodeling our houses all the time. There's also a huge demand on housing. There are tremendous housing shortages. So that's one area that we're looking to develop next and the other major areas around geographic range. We've heard currently the data is really only applicable to the United States and you can work around that to look at buildings in other places. But we've been hearing from people all over the world that they would like this tool to be applicable to their region. So that's certainly high on our priority list as well.

CCB: [00:11:02] Wow. One of the things, because I'm kind of a data nerd myself, what happens to all the data?

Erin McDade: [00:11:11] The aggregate? Yeah, that's a good question. We get that a lot right now. As of now, nothing, because the way the tool currently works there, it does not save any of your data. And this is a plus and a minus. And that one of the biggest pieces of feedback to we are getting, is that people would like there to be the option to create an account and save projects. That comes with, sometimes it can come with concerns with data, both sensitivity and anonymity, and then also of course with data quality. And so from our perspective as tool developers, it would be amazing to have a vast resource of data that users are inputting. And if we make this portfolio feature, when we make this portfolio feature, it probably will become necessary to do some sort of data saving. But we will certainly have to navigate the confidentiality and the data quality considerations.

CCB: [00:12:05] Hmm. I read on in something. It might have been your report, and note to listeners the report will be on the One Workplace ONEder Grant site, so you can access the full report. But the number of users is actually pretty impressive at this moment in time. And also, I'd love for you to talk about kind of who are those people? What sectors do they fall into or what professions do they fall into? And then also talk a little bit about the rollout at Greenbuild. So people, you've got 300 plus. I don't know how many users.

Erin McDade: [00:12:45] Yeah, I mean, go ahead, Lori.

Lori Ferris: [00:12:48] Yeah, I was going to say that our users, I think probably our largest user group right now is architects. Architects are really interested in quantifying this information for our own work and to support our clients. But I know we also have building owners using the tool. We have people from related industries. For example, the flood mitigation industry has been testing it and is really interested. The preservation or preservation sector is really interested as well in this, and that includes historic preservation officers, public officials, as well as practitioners and preservation educators. There's been a lot of interest of educators. We've had a few people who are professors who are interested in using the for their class around circular economy or design and deconstruction. I think those are the big user groups I'm thinking of right now.

CCB: [00:13:42] And I just had a moment. What was, what else was I asking you?

Erin McDade: [00:13:45] You asked about the rollout at Greenbuild.

CCB: [00:13:48] Oh, the rollout of Greenbuild. Yeah.

Erin McDade: [00:13:50] Yeah. So Greenbuild was in San Francisco last November, I believe. And so we were well, to take a tiny step back. One of the things that have been really beneficial to the CARE tool, not just from a data and kind of development perspective, but also from a public outreach and communications perspective, is that we've been working really closely with another tool and their developers, which is called EPIC. And so EPIC is being developed by the architecture firm EHDD. And our perception of these two projects is that they are very complementary. And so we frequently co-present with the EPIC team and the way we talk about it is that the CARE would be used for very early decision-making. Obviously, you were asking are you even going to renovate or tear down a building, much less what questions about what that will look like? And then the next step of the design process and the tool use utilizing process would be to go to EPIC and start doing a deeper dive. And so we.

CCB: [00:14:54] Could you take one second and explain what the EPIC tool is, at the high level.

Erin McDade: [00:14:59] Sure. I mean, it's comparable to the CARE tool in that it's a carbon estimator. It's focused not so much on answering the question of new construction versus re-use, which is what the CARE tool obviously is focused on answering. It's focused much more on once you've made some of those really early design decisions, then helping understand what interventions for the building are going to have the most impact in reducing emissions. Yeah, that's and I strongly encourage everyone to go check out that EPIC tool as well. So. we partnered with EHDD to do a CARE and EPIC co launch co party at Greenbuild, at their headquarters on Pier 1 on the San Francisco waterfront. So, it was a pretty special location, and I think we estimate we probably had about 300 to 350 people attend for the few hour period. We had two demo rooms, set up an EPIC demo room and a CARE demo room. And so Lori, Larry and myself were kind of rotating out through the CARE demo room, giving live demos while we also played a prerecorded slide show with some prerecorded demos on there. And our room was full the entire time. It was pretty I mean, I was having a really great time actually in there because I was taking live suggestions for OK what use type are we going to look at this time? We’ll do a K through 12 school with a bowling alley and then we're going to renovate that to be an aquarium with a bar. It was, it was a pretty. it was genuinely a really fun and entertaining way to introduce people to the tool and to start engaging people in the conversation about building reuse and about what the whole carbon conversation and stories about there are.

CCB: [00:16:56] There are so many organizations that are kind of invested in this that it not only does it create viral moments because information is being shared across a number of different organizations, but it almost feels like there's some kind of energy. There's way more energy behind it, for sure, but some kind of energy for the continuation of the project. And we'll speak to that just a little bit.

Erin McDade: [00:17:30] It. Yeah. I mean, I think there are a lot of ways that we could talk about that. We've already addressed our list of, of upgrades and additions to the tool that is our, our dream list. I think it's pretty impressive to us actually, how much this has become a whole initiative. I mean, right now it's we were just joking about this at our team meeting this week. It's living under Architecture 2030, which we didn't even talk about actually for a number of years, Larry, Lori and myself were simply working on this on our free time. We are essentially moonlighting it. And so it was pretty great to have Architecture 2030, my org, formally take it on and formally take over the process of helping us do, for example, a lot of the fundraising and a lot of the outreach and communication because it's just significantly sped up the process of getting this tool developed and put out there. And we are, I think, all overwhelmed in a positive way by how much interest and how much excitement and how many ideas there are for how this tool could be utilized in all of these different ways. We've been approached by folks who would like to turn it into a kind of really high level carbon calculator and embed it on their websites. We have a lot of people really interested in seeing if we can incorporate in environmental justice and equity considerations. Always the question of cost comes up. You know, is there a way that we can quantify this from both a carbon perspective and a cost perspective, and an equity perspective in an ideal world? You know, then we think about all that and we think about scaling internationally. We think about looking at it from not just a single building but a portfolio perspective. And I'm really excited by the potential for this, I think, because, I mean, building re-use is just going to be a crux of solving the climate crisis through the built environment. And so, yeah, really impressed with how far we've gotten with it.

CCB: [00:19:29] Lori, did you have something you want to say?

Lori Ferris: [00:19:31] Well, I think it's clear, Erin, from the way you're describing these really big challenges, that the people want the tool to address, that there are just so many industries and sectors and professions grappling with how to address the climate crisis through the built environment. And I think because the tool is is so high level and and easy to use and flexible, it can answer it has the potential to answer so many questions and to be used in so many ways. So I think there is a lot of excitement and energy and momentum from so many different groups, from commercial real estate and public agencies and the heritage community. We've had interest from UN Habitat and C40 Cities and it's down to the single, down to the single homeowner. And so, yeah, it's really there is a lot of energy. It's really exciting and really overwhelming to try and prioritize where to take things next.

CCB: [00:20:23] And it's a much better I was going to say that's a much better problem to have than trying to get it moving in the first place, because it's so delightful to hear the inertia principle and action that it's moving forward and has continuous movement. So, on the CARE.Org website there's the carbon tool.

Erin McDade: [00:20:46] CAREtool.org.

CCB: [00:20:48] We'll have it on on the link on the website but on the website it actually outlines very, very clearly kind of next steps and what kind of action you're looking for and obviously as places for donations, if people are interested in joining that, that kind of funding and being a part of architecture 2030, which is a nonprofit, then obviously that's those are write-offs. Are there, are there, with all this enthusiastic wave is there, is there still an area or a segment of the population that needs convincing?

Erin McDade: [00:21:28] Well, that's an interesting question. So I like from my role at 2030, I think I'm in a pretty privileged position in that I primarily get to work with the already convinced. And my I consider my job very, very much to provide the momentum and support to scale the impact of the already convinced and to not convince the unconvinced. So that is not really a conversation that has come up for me through the lens of CARE, and nor does it usually in my job.

CCB: [00:22:05] I'm just curious. One of our other grantees this past year was working on using mass timber in life science building construction to minimize carbon. And it was really interesting just to have the conversation with them and say, you know, who are. I mean, from a life science industry perspective, those folks are environmentally concerned and sustainability concern. And so there's a whole audience that is much more open to it. However, there are folks that are less, and you just kind of wonder who are those people and how do we help convince a broader sector of the population that that's the right thing to do?

Erin McDade: [00:22:52] You know, it does actually. That does make me think of a pretty interesting thing that has actually been shifting dramatically. And I think it kind of goes to show the timeliness of CARE. So Lori can maybe speak to this more as a practicing architect, but I know there has historically been a reticence in much of the architecture community to do building re-use. Architects frequently consider themselves designers of new construction, which of course is not a comprehensive definition of what it means to be an architect. But fascinatingly and I don't know if it's fully due to the pandemic, who knows what it's due to. But we reached in the US, the tipping point on architectural buildings where we actually are building more for building re-use than we are building for new construction. So, I think in the past we might have faced more resistance from the design community in particular about this. But I really think the design community's perception of our role in this, in addressing climate change and addressing all of the other issues that are correlated to the building sector, like Lori was talking about, our housing crisis, that kind of thing. It's really shifted into understanding that reuses whether we like it or not, it's going to be something that many, many, many architects and other construction industry professionals are undertaking.

Lori Ferris: [00:24:16] I do think, though, there's still a huge challenge to overcome and the perception that, well, I think people are sort of we're hardwired to want shiny new things. It's just, it's really ingrained in our culture to want new, new and new. You see that with science, it's much easier for them to fund new construction building owners, to fund new construction than to fund replacing light bulbs and fixing leaky pipes. People, when we talk about density, we often there's a general, a general understanding that to make if you have a single family house and you need you want to two families on that lot, you should start by tearing down that one house and then building a duplex. You know, there's just this, that's how we've been trained to think that we need to start over. But I think, as Erin says, I think we are starting to see a general recognition of the importance of reuse. And I think I do think the CARE tool is really timely as we're starting to encounter all of the new building performance standards and energy codes and carbon neutrality policies that are emerging. We have to, we have to account for the embodied carbon associated with those policies. And that's really not happening yet in any holistic sort of way. So, I think that providing a tool that allows people to do that in a simple and low cost way will really help move things forward. At least that's my hope.

CCB: [00:25:36] I think your hope will probably be will come to fruition because, I mean, to your point, there is so much more focus and awareness and energy going towards sustainable construction, sustainable design. I know at the IIDA so Interior and International Interior Design Association, Northern California has a Climate Action committee and it's a coalition of architects and designers in the Bay Area from across all firms, including HRD, talking about how can we what, what do we need to know to up our education? What do we need to know to improve our conversations with our clients? So, without a doubt, I mean, I'm sure there are pockets of the world that are maybe not as aware, but it's almost like you cannot escape it. So I think all the tools that we're providing and the CARE tool specifically, are incredibly valuable at this moment in time. So speaking of time, we're at the end. So is there anything else that you'd like to share with the audience that we haven't really addressed?

Erin McDade: [00:26:48] I would just encourage everyone to go, actually look at the tool and play around with it. I obviously am biased, but I think it's genuinely fun to play around with the tool and to to look at how some of the inputs change the outputs. And like I said, you really need a very basic level of understanding of how buildings work to be able to at least play around with the tool. And if you have any interest in providing any feedback or supporting us, all that information is there, and we genuinely love to hear the feedback. It's been incredibly valuable for us and making development decisions.

CCB: [00:27:25] That's fantastic.

Erin McDade: [00:27:26] Thank you so much for being supported twice by ONEder. This has been incredible in getting this tool developed so much more quickly than I think any of us imagined we would have been able to.

CCB [00:27:38] That's delightful to hear. Lori, you get last words.

Lori Ferris: [00:27:41] Okay. Yeah, well, I'll echo what Erin said. I think you have to check out C ARE dot org and play around with a tool. I think it's really helpful. We've found it recalibrating our own intuition about the carbon footprint of building re-use compared to new construction and just off reuse on its own. So, use it to test out some of maybe your preconceptions about the way we reuse buildings and the environmental impacts. And please send us your feedback and let us know how it's how it's working for you, how it's not, and really how it's helping you make a real impact in your work.

CCB: [00:28:14] Fantastic. Thank you. Lori Ferris and Erin McDade. I am going to say this year, for this past year, 2022, for the ONEder Grant it was the first time that we actually put a theme out and said we would like, we would like thoughts, projects, concepts related to ESG. And we're completely delighted with the information and the output that has come forward in a way that's going to lift all of us in different areas across the design community and the built environment. So, I'm going to say goodbye from the ONEder podcast. There will be other 2022 ONEder Grant Award winners that you can listen to, and it's on all streaming services. So have fun. Take CARE. Bye bye.