Decarbonization Case Study: Reuse, Reclaim, Revolutionize

July 17, 2023

Construction is one of the largest economic drivers in the world; it’s also one of the largest contributors to man-made climate change. The architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry produces 40 percent of global CO2 emissions annually, 27 percent of which comes from building operations (operational carbon) and 13 percent from construction (embodied carbon). This is simply untenable as climate change and its impacts worsen.

To curb this output, our industry must strive for net-zero emissions in the built environment. This is a game of increments, however, and cannot be achieved overnight—which is where decarbonization comes in. Reducing carbon output is a matter of taking a "crawl, walk, or run"-based approach: meeting clients and partners where they are, and working within constraints to find carbon-smart, future-ready solutions. By using a mix of strategies to reduce the total lifetime carbon output of the built environment, both during the building process and as occupied structures, we can create buildings that are resilient, cost-effective, and critical components of the net-zero future. 

While some strategies are more effective than others at reducing emissions, the KSS belief is that we must start somewhere, and even minor changes to building strategy will have a long-lasting impact.

In the following case study, we’ll take a look at various strategies to lower your project's carbon output throughout its lifecycle, as illustrated by three significant projects in the KSS portfolio that take radically different approaches to decarbonization.

Why Decarbonization?

While the overall goal of decarbonization is to lower our industry's carbon footprint, there are myriad reasons to employ green design & build strategies:

  • Resiliency: Many sustainable strategies and materials are designed with efficiency and increased survivability in mind. Whether the super-tight envelopes of passive building principles, solar arrays or other alternative energy sources that de-emphasize dependence on the grid, or another sustainable strategy, these approaches can reduce operational carbon while mitigating risk.
  • Long-term cost savings: On average, sustainable buildings cost 2 percent more to build, but they use 35 percent less energy, according tot he U.S. Green Building Council. By some measures, sustainable buildings cost, on average, 14 to 19 percent less than comparable traditional buildings. Recent research has also found that buildings with sustainability certifications (such as LEED) rent for 3.7 percent more than comparable traditional buildings.
  • Consumer demand: Tenants want sustainable, healthy buildings: occupancy in commercial buildings with sustainbility-related certifications is, on average, 9.5 percent higher than comparable traditional buildings. In fact, sustainability is quickly becoming one of the most important deciding factors for both tenants and investors looking for new space. According to a survey conducted by CBRE, tenants are willing to pay more for features like on-site renewable energy, increased resiliency, and other measures that decrease a space's carbon footprint. Investors are similarly looking to put their money where these principles are being applied: almost 75 percent of respondents made real estate decisions "based on the building's potential to meet regulatory requirements for energy, followed by 58 [percent] who cited a focus on improving energy consumption data and 58 [percent] on commissioning voluntary building certifications."
  • Preventing stranded assets: Between consumer demand, increased pressure on infrastructure from climate change-related weather events (including sometimes catastrophic damage to existing buildings that have not been updated), and increasingly stringent regulatory measures in municipalities the world over, not investing in decarbonization is an enormous risk. Designing and building for today's world (and today's regulations, such as the soon-to-be-implemented Local Law 97 in New York City) means building assets that are at higher risk of damage from increasingly intense weather events, risking hefty fines for not meeting stringent emissions requirements, spending more on utilities thanks to inefficiencies and climate change-related spikes in energy costs, and lack of tenant interest.

By employing strategies to reduce both embodied and operational carbon in our projects, the AEC industry can shrink the amount of carbon produced by a building throughout the entirety of its lifecycle.

Reuse: 3202 Queens Boulevard

Adaptive reuse: a thoughtful renovation of an iconic building

In an up-and-coming neighborhood that was once almost exclusively industrial, the original Packard Motor Building in Long Island City, Queens, a cast-in-place concrete structure, will be given new life thanks to a thoughtful renovation.

  • The concept: renovate the original building and demolish a small one-story addition, replacing it with a loading dock that improves circulation and multi-tenant operations.
  • This renovation will address the large embodied carbon footprint of new builds: adaptive reuse reduces a building's total carbon by 37 percent compared to a new build.
  • Adaptive reuse will also minimize the waste debris and environmental pollutants resulting from demolition, which, according to the EPA, accounts for 90 percent of the debris created by the construction process, introduces pollutants into the environment via dust, and produces carbon emissions via usage of heavy equipment and transport of debris from the site
  • While there will be a small demolition project, replacing the one-story addition with a loading dock, the improved circulation and addition of insulation will ultimately reduce the building's operational carbon in the long-term.
  • The design team is also looking to use locally-sourced materials and work with local manufacturers to minimize transportation-related carbon emissions and reduce the embodied carbon of the building.

Reclaim: Kingsland Meadowlands

Brownfield development: reclaiming crucial wetlands and eliminating landfill

A stone's throw from New York City, the Meadowlands is home to a delicate wetlands ecosystem that was once used as landfill. After an extensive capping and remediation process, this multi-building campus will sit quietly among the waterways, using passive building stratgies to create a low-impact industrial space that honors its surroundings.

  • The concept: eliminate landfill, and build a light-filled, efficient industrial campus tucked among the waterways of the Meadowlands.
  • Landfill is one of the largest greenhouse gas contributors in the world; landfills release methane and carbon dioxide, and they also leach run-off, which can negatively impact the soil and water of their surrounding communities.
  • The project will break ground in fall 2023 after an extensive mitigation process that compacts trash, develops a vapor capture system to capture methane, and takes into account the nearby waterways and wildlife.
  • The building will include precast concrete panels with continuous insulation built-in; while concrete is less carbon-friendly up front, with a higher embodied carbon footprint, these panels have been designed with thermal mass properties that will save on heating and cooling, reducing operational carbon over the lifetime of the building.
  • The roof envelope's membrane will be a dark color, which will help with heating in the winter, also reducing operational carbon output.
  • Large windows, which will give users views of the wetlands and New York City in the distance, have Low E glazing, which will reduce solar heat gain throughout the building.
  • A water filtration system to help protect the surrounding wetlands will be part of an on-site sustainability program.
  • To maintain the brick facade aesthetic for which the client is known while keeping embodied carbon low, thin brick will be used.

Revolutionize: Belmont Retail Village

The future of new construction: high-impact strategies throughout the lifecycle

Once an underutilized overflow parking lot serving the Belmont Racetrack, this new construction will be a highly sustainable high-end retail experience that serves as a model of what is possible when mutliple decarbonization strategies are applied throughout the lifecycle of the design and build process.

  • Throughout the design process, careful planning, strategic use of key technology, and regular lifecycle assessments were deployed in order to balance resiliency and durability with aggressive sustainability goals, resulting in a building that will have an immediate, positive impact on its community and meet demand as sustainability-related regulations become more stringent.
  • Careful lifecycle assessment of specified assemblies and materials, reduced material use, low-embodied carbon materials, and assembly strategies will significantly reduce the embodied and operational carbon of this new build.
  • This project will use recycled/reused aggregate in 60 percent of its total aggregate.
  • Belmont incorporates 2 times more passive insulation in its exterior shell and reflective roofs than New York State code requires. By exceeding current requirements, this build will reduce operational carbon emissions over the next 20 years to meet the UN Climate Panel recommendations to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
  • The design will also reduce impact to regional stormwater aquifers by retaining and infiltrating upwards of 90% of stormwater discharge into retention basin and 100+ deep underground drywells.
  • A rainscreen envelope shell will reduce use-stage embodied carbon via functional adaptability, allowing for reduced maintenance and reconstruction over the lifetime of the building, without requiring a total overhaul of wall construction.
  • Up to 30 percent of its peak energy will come from on-site roof-mounted PV array, which will also benefit the community by allowing excess energy to be funneled back to the grid.
  • This project goes above and beyond current requirements to future-proof the building. As such, Belmont is targeting LEED Gold, BREEAM Outstanding (the highest level for the world's leading sustainability certification), and CRREM, a forward-looking certification based on European standards.