Aspect Climate Chronicles – Part 3: What Is Aspect doing?

In this final installment of our Aspect Climate Chronicles series, we’ll get right to the point and share what we’re doing to address the climate emergency. 

Embodied Carbon Calculations: We are carrying out embodied carbon calculations on as many projects as we can.

While not always part of our scope, we are identifying projects that would benefit from an LCA to continue to create a baseline of what’s “normal” and identify clear opportunities for carbon savings. This allows us to provide carbon comparisons between structural schemes so that projects can truly be assessed on a triple-bottom-line basis (people, planet, profits). So far this has proven to be an excellent way of highlighting the impact that early design decisions have on the carbon intensity of a building, and it has resulted in fundamental design direction changes.

Study comparing a recently built 12-storey concrete building with a mass timber version. This included an embodied carbon calculation which determined a 33% reduction in embodied carbon for the mass timber option.

Education and awareness: One of the largest hurdles currently is the lack of knowledge within the industry.

We do not claim to be experts in the field of embodied carbon, but in the past few years, we have educated ourselves on the key issues and been researching solutions and reduction methods. With this, we are able to highlight the implications of design decisions or material choices to architects, contractors and clients, promoting the awareness of embodied carbon and furthering industry knowledge. We need more architects, owners and engineers doing the same to truly proliferate these considerations within the industry.

Designing efficient buildings: In some ways cost and carbon are equivalent. The more material you use, the more you pay.  

Often, the same can be said for embodied carbon. If we can design a slab to be thinner without increasing the reinforcement, then we’ve made a saving. As engineers, we must find a balance between the potential savings, ease and simplicity of construction, and what we can reasonably do with the resources we have.  

In many circumstances, structural engineers will group elements and provide a single ‘worst case’ design that can cover multiple instances. This is an efficient way for us to work, reduces uniqueness and possible confusion on site, but can result in some material inefficiencies. Use of parametric design tools can eliminate the need for grouping of elements and maximize utilization. As above, simplicity and logic in construction weighs heavily here; having multiple member sizes can result in additional materials for finishes, or could reduce benefits of prefabrication. There is a balance to be considered in all situations and we feel that we are approaching this with the correct amount of technology and engineering judgment. 

District56 Tallwood 1

Timber: Aspect is an industry leader in modern timber design. We have an extensive portfolio of mass timber projects, pushing the boundaries of what the material can achieve. This expertise has helped us guide architects and clients to create incredible buildings with significant reductions in embodied carbon. To reach climate targets,12-storey mass timber buildings will need to become a regular occurrence, and we are facilitating this as much as we can. 

We mustn’t however lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve. True embodied carbon savings will not solely come from pushing a timber agenda. It’s easy to get caught up in the prospect of an exciting “new” material, but mass timber is sometimes not the right fit. For example, in low seismic and wind areas, a multi-unit residential building under 6-storeys is probably the most carbon efficient in light wood frame. Equally, an underground parking structure or tall skyscraper will certainly favor concrete and steel.

District56 Tallwood 1, Langford BC: Celebrated as the first tall mass timber building on Vancouver Island, the first Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction (EMTC) building constructed that meets the BC Building Code, and as the second tallest mass timber building in Canada. Client: Design Build Services; Architect: Jack James; Photography: Skyscope

Industry initiatives: Aspect has committed to a number of initiatives within the industry:


  • We were an early signatory to SE2050, an initiative set up by the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI). This is a comprehensive program that has been designed to ensure substantive embodied carbon reductions in the design and construction of structural systems by the collective structural engineering profession. The SE2050 Commitment Program is being developed in response to the SE2050 Challenge which states: 

        All structural engineers shall understand, reduce, and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050. 

  • Through the SE2050 process, we will be able to track the embodied carbon impacts of our structural systems, assess the trends for various systems and then establish achievable reduction targets over time. This concept is modeled after the Architecture 2030 reduction targets for operational energy; SE2050 will run parallel with this for structural embodied carbon. 
  • As part of our commitment to SE2050 we have issued annual Embodied Carbon Action Plans (ECAPs). This outlines our proposed path to reducing the impact of our designs and targets for the coming year. You can see our latest ECAP report here. 


  • We are a member of the Carbon Leadership Forum, an online community where we can share our findings and ask questions relating to sustainability within the industry. 


  • Curriculum development: Mass Timber at MSU has invited us to contribute our expertise and insights to an industry team developing mass timber curriculum frameworks for the next generation of timber professionals.  
  • Other University involvement: We are working with several North American universities to provide project data for embodied carbon analysis, (with the permission from owners) and advice on embodied carbon studies. 

  • We have been working with several other industry experts to create the embodied carbon guidance document for EGBC, due to be published June 2023. 


Collaboration: Collaboration between all professions in the construction process is key. Owner/clients are in the position to make key decisions which can affect the end carbon value. Engineers and architects must not brush this off and be willing to present meaningful carbon reduction strategies. Contractors and subcontractors must procure and install these solutions, so their input should not be underestimated.  

To achieve targets or reductions the whole team needs to contribute, and as the process is new for most, education and knowledge sharing is critical.  

At Aspect, we try to collaborate with our competitors as much as possible – after all, Collaboration is one of our core values. In our industry, this isn’t necessarily the norm, as unique differentiators generally help win projects. The climate emergency however is an existential challenge that is much larger than any one individual or firm, and we must all work together to find the answers.   

Key collaborations include: 

  • Our published Embodied Carbon Action Plan for SE2050 outlines how we are working towards net zero and is available for anyone to view here
  • We regularly meet with other engineers to share information and discuss how we are tackling various issues as they arise.  
  • We are engaged with companies in the UK whose governing body, IStructE is several steps ahead of Canada in terms of advice and guidance to the engineering profession. 

In conclusion: 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series and that it has helped paint a clearer carbon picture. We also hope to have reinforced just how critical it is that we all must do our part – right now. We recognize and accept the significant role AEC professionals play in the climate crisis, and choose the path of proactivity. Through the steps indicated above and throughout this series, we hope to see further movement towards low-carbon construction, and we look optimistically towards positive results for the planet.  

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know if you thought this series was useful, or if you’d like to chat about the material presented. If you’re looking to make a difference but don’t know where to start, give us a call – we don’t bite.