Georgia’s Expert Work toImprove the Carbon Registry
By Stasia Kelly Summer 2023
Inset image: Several lengths of wood laid perpendicular to one another are glued under pressure to create special
beams for mass timber construction.
Afternoon rush hour on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta didn’t look any different to the harried drivers below, but at Ponce City Market, a special graduation of sorts was in progress. A group of hard hat-clad forestry, academic and business leaders was touring the Jamestown LP mass timber building now under construction.
“It was a very special evening,” said Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) Chief of Utilization Devon Dartnell about the sunset tour of 619 Ponce and the following celebratory dinner. “These people had given so much of their time and talent; it was rewarding to salute them for their work.
”That work involved a year of meetings, research, Teams calls and complex conversations about carbon. Specifically, a formula for how carbon can be captured by healthy forestlands and embedded into construction products for the ultimate protection of the environment. It wasn’t easy.
Tackling the challenge was up to the Sustainable Building Material Technical Advisory Committee (SBMTAC),created at the direction of the GeorgiaLegislature in 2021. The eight-member committee was charged with enhancingGeorgia’s existing carbon registry (established in 2004) to enable the tracking of carbon stored in commercial construction projects throughout the state. A primary objective of SBMTAC was to ensure the compatibility of carbon credits issued with global carbon markets, including establishing guidelines for determining a carbon baseline, additionality, verification and permanence. The formulas and systems designed were to be written so that builders and real estate developers would be encouraged to utilize sustainable building materials that store more carbon and emit fewer greenhouse gases.
GFC manages the registry, and the committee, established by the director of the agency, was tasked with creating rules governing the registry and its independent auditors certifying GFC-registered carbon credits.
Committee Selection and Ramp-up Committee makeup was required to represent specific expertise categories, including engineering and architecture, minimum standard codes, real estate/builder, carbon offset protocol and whole-building life cycle assessment. Three at-large representatives were also required. On December 16, 2021, SBMTAC met for the first time at Jamestown’s Ponce City Market office.
Following self-introductions of commit-tee members and a welcome from James-town’s Director of Timberlands Troy Harris, GFC Director Tim Lowrimore established the importance of including sustainable building materials on the registry.
“This is a huge opportunity to educate urban communities and other citizens about the importance of working forests to our society and the carbon-sequestering abilities of wood products,” Lowrimore said. Dartnell presented background information supporting the sustainability of Southern forests and carbon credits, carbon markets, and the committee’s responsibilities as defined by the legislation.
“We were all getting to know each other and wrapping our heads around the task at hand,” said Dartnell. “We talked about the purpose of the amendment, which was to provide for the inclusion of building products that sequester carbon used in construction in Georgia onto the carbon registry. It would allow registry participants to voluntarily report the car-bon stored in their building materials as well as the reduction in carbon emissions resulting from using sustainable building materials such as wood beams and wood wall and floor panels. In turn, they would receive a proportionate number of carbon credits for doing so.
”Despite this simple overview of the committee’s mission, the job ahead was unfolding as intricate and massive. Fortunately, the group had 12 months to meet its objectives. Issues raised and directives noted were numerous, including:
RECOMMEND a system for the State of Georgia to issue carbon credits that is aligned and compatible with global carbon credit and offset markets to ensure creditability.
ESTABLISH baseline categories for commercial buildings based on occupancy and type.
ENSURE any recommendations are compliant with GA State minimum standard codes.
UNDERSTAND capabilities of life-cycle-assessment tools such as Athena Impact Estimator and Talley, which give architects, engineers and analysts access to advanced life-cycle-inventory data without requiring advanced skills.
DEVELOP an example building with calculations for investors to understand the number of carbon credits they can monetize in their planned GA buildings by substituting sustainable building materials for conventional materials.
EVALUATE existing templates and protocols for measuring and incentivizing carbon in buildings for learning purposes.
SELECT a depository site for document sharing. Two mechanisms for securing carbon credits form the foundation of the registry system:
Building-embedded carbon – Measures total amount by mass of carbon stored within the building products used. Embodied carbon – Holistic evaluation uses a life cycle assessment to measure all carbon impacts, from the extraction of raw materials until the building materials’ final disposal.
Committee member Dr. Valerie Thomas chairs Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the School of Public Policy. Her knowledge of building life cycle assessments, the so-called “cradle to grave” equation, landed her the post on the carbon committee.
“It was great because we had a lot of different kinds of expertise,” Thomas said. “I learned so much about building and construction and the market for mass timber. I discovered people responsible for evaluating building shave special expertise, special software. I got to work with them and learned how they do their work. And I liked that the Georgia legislature did this. I like serving Georgia.”
Dartnell characterized Dr. Thomas as “very thorough” and said she helped propel the group through its formative first months. This was an important period for understanding existing systems, building models, and a number of new acronyms and definitions.
The committee’s January meeting detailed established building life cycles: A1 – A3 Product Stage; A4 – A5 Construction Process Stage; B1 – B7 Use Stage; and C1 – C4 End of Life Stage. These categories would play important roles in devising measurement systems for the registry. It was decided the group would use the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Prototype Building models to establish baseline categories for occupancy data and structural systems when they are developed. Two important sub-committees were formed — embedded carbon and embodied carbon — which would develop rules for how individual projects will calculate and report these carbons for their projects.
A five-ply cross-laminated timber
(CLT) panel, cut to finished dimensions required by the design and engineering team. The panel continues to the finish end to be puttied, sanded, sealed and wrapped for delivery.
Math Is Hard, Carbon Is Harder As winter turned to spring, monthly meetings continued and propelling gears were gathering momentum. The COVID pandemic dictated that meetings were conducted via Teams calls, with good use made of shared screens and presentation software. Committee Chair Dr. Russell Gentry of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture created an operational framework and process-model flowchart, which examined the perspective of a developer trying to register a building. Building comparison details about Tech’s sustainably developed crown jewel, the Kendeda Building, were shared.
It’s difficult for a layman to imagine the amount of research necessitated by this mission and the knowledge levels required to evaluate the myriad of components associated with fulfilling this carbon formula challenge. Yet by summer, these experts were feeling a sense of urgency. They created an outline of everything that was needed in the registry and assigned tasks to the corresponding subject experts.
“Math is hard,” said Managing Director of Timberland and committee member Troy Harris, “and carbon is harder. There are lots of credible people studying carbon and there is no one standard. Georgia is the first state to do this and the world is watching.”In August, three committee members met with Jamestown, which agreed to work with their architectural engineering consultants to calculate the embodied carbon in their planned mass timber building at 619 Ponce. The firm agreed that the building could become the example structure used in the carbon registry protocol.
With copious amounts of research and hundreds of hours of arduous work amassed, the committee met its mid-December deadline to produce recommendations for establishing carbon baselines, assuring additionality, verification and permanence for commercial construction and building endeavors in Georgia.
In early 2022, ground was broken on 619 Ponce, the four-story mass timber retail and office building that is being constructed with local, Georgia-grown timber and targeting net-neutral operational carbon. When it is complete, final carbon calculations will be made, with results entered into the concluding committee report.
“This has come full circle in such a remarkable way,” said GFC Director Lowrimore. “Georgia is pioneering voluntary market-based solutions to encourage mass timber development in the Southeast. It would not have happened without our forward-thinking legislature and the forestry industry drive to push new sustainable markets.
”Michael Phillips, president of Jamestown, said mass timber is “the future of sustainable development, and the future of mass timber is locally sourced. Six-nineteen Ponce will help redefine sustainable mass timber construction in the Southeast, providing developers and architects with a clear path forward for using local timber.”
“It’s an incredibly special building,” added Troy Harris.
And a striking feather in the cap for Georgia’s forest industry.■
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. She is focused on telling the story of forestry and exploring the immense impact of the industry on Georgia’s environment, economy and heritage.
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