News Brief

Structural Engineers Unite against Climate Change

With SE 2050, structural engineers commit to eliminating embodied carbon from buildings.

“All structural engineers shall understand, reduce, and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050.” Simply worded but dauntingly difficult to achieve, that is the Structural Engineers’ 2050 (SE 2050) Challenge.

Structural elements like concrete and steel are a massive source of so-called embodied carbon—the greenhouse gases emitted upfront from production, delivery, and installation of building materials. As the carbon emissions from building operations decline, embodied carbon becomes ever more important. And embodied carbon is especially urgent because the greenhouse gases we produce in the next decade or two will have an outsized influence on the progress of climate change. (See The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It.)

Led by the Carbon Leadership Forum—a collaboration of industry and academia hosted at the University of Washington—SE 2050 on its website calls on structural engineers to:

  • assess embodied carbon and create a plan for reduction
  • apply lower-carbon design strategies and material choices
  • encourage the industry to broaden the availability of carbon-smart structural materials
  • collaborate with other design professionals to reduce embodied carbon
  • assess progress toward reduction targets
  • share knowledge to accelerate broader action

The challenge also asks structural engineers to contribute to a growing database of embodied carbon information that will not only establish a baseline but also track industry progress.

Structural engineers can’t do it alone, and other design professionals can sign on to the challenge as well. As of September 2019, the initiative had 14 structural engineering firms, 48 individual structural engineers, and 22 people in other disciplines as signatories.

More on embodied carbon

The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It

Embodied Carbon Tools: Assessing the Options

A New Initiative for “Climate-Smart” Wood

For more information:

Carbon Leadership Forum

Published November 4, 2019

Melton, P. (2019, October 22). Structural Engineers Unite against Climate Change. Retrieved from

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December 9, 2019 - 7:46 pm

Engineers usually solve big problems by making more BIG Problems.

December 10, 2019 - 1:29 pm

How about only building buildings that are (1) architecturally designed so that people want to occupy, keep, and maintain them, (2) structurally durable that they can last indefinitely, and (3) structurally simple and architecturally flexible so they can be repurposed when/if necessary... as I sit in an old Chiclets factory repurporsed into an office buildng.

December 10, 2019 - 2:06 pm

Forward-thinking architects and structural engineers certainly have these design decisions on their minds as well, but it's a good reminder!

November 11, 2020 - 11:48 am

This program formally launched today as a "Commitment" instead of a "Challenge". I've updated the links in this article to the new program website. Go Engineers!!