Sustainable Missoula: Green building materials can reduce Missoula’s carbon footprint

Deconstruction of the Mercantile in downtown Missoula prior to construction of the Marriott. (Home ReSource)

When we think about reducing our community’s carbon emissions, buildings are a huge piece of the puzzle. Buildings comprise 52 percent of our community’s carbon footprint, a higher percentage than the national perspective, where the building sector represents 39 percent of national emissions. The need to think critically about how, where and what we build only becomes more important as Missoula’s population grows.

Our community is in the midst of an important dialogue about how to preserve the assets that make Missoula great, all while maintaining affordability and welcoming new people into our community. Green building practices are an important part of the conversation, and we’re lucky to have a suite of possible tools and an array of local professionals dedicated to the task. 

Rather than be daunted by the numbers from the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report, some of our local architects from Loci Architecture and MMW Architects have responded to the call for urgent, near-term global carbon emissions reductions by reframing the conversation on building materials.

They’ve shifted their perspective on building design to consider more than the carbon emissions associated with the life cycle of the building (like how much electricity the building will use in the 50 to 100 years it’s in use) toward the types of materials they use and the carbon emissions embodied in these products. Embodied carbon is the amount of carbon produced in the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials.

Different materials have different amounts of embodied carbon: Concrete, for example, has roughly 22 percent more embodied carbon than wood. Considering the embodied carbon of materials has not yet been widely incorporated into the design process, despite its importance. Informed design decisions about materials can help us align significant carbon emissions reductions with the timeline that the 2018 IPCC report and myriad recent scientific studies demand. 

CLTree is a single panel of cross laminated timber (40’x10’) cut twice and mounted on helical piers to demonstrate the strength and versatility of mass timber as a fully renewable and reusable building material. The structure is part of the Franke College of Forestry and Conservation’s campaign to build a mass timber building at the highest green standard. Infographics on mass timber and on the building can be found at the base of CLTree. (Laurie Yung)

Using less carbon-intensive building materials offers co-benefits in addition to emission reductions. Cross-laminated timber (CLT), for example, is a light yet extremely strong prefabricated and engineered wood, and its popularity in the building and design world is growing. Not only does it have lower embodied carbon than other traditional building materials, but it also helps to accelerate the building process, saving money by shortening the timeline between construction and occupancy.

The growth of CLT construction is particularly exciting in Montana because our timber industry is primed to respond to new market demand, creating new economic opportunities across the state. Momentum is building as the Montana Department of Labor and Industry has decided to explore CLT and Tall Wood Building provisions in their building code update. 

Building materials are an important consideration at the end of a building’s life, too. Deconstruction is the art of dismantling buildings for maximum reuse of materials, and it has many benefits over a traditional demolition approach.

From an energy perspective, it saves about 95 percent of the energy that would be required to produce the same materials, and it also has major implications for waste reduction, job creation, and historical preservation. The Home Resource-led deconstruction of the Missoula Mercantile building in 2017 is a great example of deconstruction in our community. It diverted hundreds of thousands of board feet of old-growth lumber away from the landfill and reintroduced it into Missoula’s economy.

You can read more about deconstruction’s benefits on Home Resource’s website. Additionally, the city of Missoula provides a handy Deconstruction Guide for all those considering taking down a building or even embarking on a remodel project. 

Smart decisions around the materials we build and retrofit with are just one way of reducing emissions in the near-term. We can also help secure new and better policy. Typically, architects, builders and developers align projects to official building codes.

Luckily there’s an opportunity to weigh in on the next version of these statewide codes. You can participate in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s public comment process by emailing the Building Code’s program manager at buildingcodes@mt.gov

In order to think holistically about our buildings and imagine pathways toward a sustainable, affordable and equitable future, we need a diverse group of stakeholders to participate, from architecture and design professionals to builders, developers, and homeowners. This is just the beginning of a robust conversation, and we’ll dive deeper into possibilities for more green building in Missoula not only in future Sustainable Missoula columns, but at Climate Smart Missoula’s Sept. 12 Monthly Meetup at Imagine Nation Brewing (see below for details and all are welcome). Join us and stay tuned. Together we can move our building industry towards a more sustainable future. 

Caroline Lauer is Program Director at Climate Smart Missoula. Sarah Ayers is Principle Architect and owner of Loci Architecture + Design.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

September 7. Free Cycles Climate Ride. Community cycling event to raise awareness about climate change and benefit Free Cycles’ programs. Different ride lengths available starting at 9am. 

September 7. Let’s Talk About Water: Day of Action. Participate in citizen science project with Watershed Education Network. Greenough Park, 9:30 am to 2 pm. 

September 12. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup. 5-6:30pm at Imagine Nation Brewing Community Room. This month’s topic: Green Building and Energy Efficiency.

September 14. Spontaneous Construction – Home ReSource’s fabulous annual creative reuse art event. You can still register your team. Or just plan to come by for the festivities. Details here.

September 15. Sunday Streets. Celebrate Missoula as a bikeable and walkable community and kick off Walk and Roll week. Higgins Ave through downtown is closed to cars and filled with free, fun activities for all ages. 12pm-4pm. 

September 16-20. Walk and Roll Week. Annual community-wide celebration promotes active and sustainable transportation with events, special discounts at local businesses, and more. Learn more and sign up here.

September 19. Communicating about Climate. A panel discussion hosted by the National Communication Association and UM’s Climate Change Studies at Program. 6-7:30pm, University Center, Room 326/327. More information here.

September 20-27. Global Climate Strike! People of all ages all across the globe are striking on Friday, Sept 20, and planning is underway for a rally and festivities here in Missoula on that day. Then there are multiple events throughout the week, including a youth-led teach-in. Find out about local events and actions here.  

September 28. Missoula’s second annual Clean Energy Expo. 10 am-3 pm, Caras Park. Join Climate Smart Missoula, The Montana Renewable Energy Association and many others to learn about and celebrate climate solutions and clean energy. Learn more here and contact Abby at Climate Smart if you’d like to co-sponsor or volunteer. 

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for 2019 HERE.