As we have written about before, the impact of the built environment on global carbon emissions is massive. Building materials, construction, and operations are responsible for some 40% of carbon emissions.. and the square footage of the built environment is set to double over the next 40 years (this is adding another New York City every 35 days or so for 40 years).
In this blog, we highlight new research that further reveals the severe impact we are having on the planet. According to an article published in Nature magazine this month, the mass of human-produced objects (anthropogenic) now exceeds that of the overall global biomass. Simply put, the stuff we make now weighs more than all the plants and shrubs in the world. And the biggest contributors to human-made mass? Buildings and infrastructure. Some more data points:
- The mass of anthropogenic materials has been doubling every 20 years since the beginning of the 20th century. For clarity, ‘the mass of human-produced objects (in 1900) was equal to about 3% of the world’s total biomass. But in 2020, human-made mass has reached ~1.1 teratonnes, exceeding global biomass.’
- On average, every person in the world is responsible for the creation of human-made matter equal to more than their body weight each week
- Since 1900 the overall biomass has actually decreased while human-made mass is growing at 30 gigatonnes a year (30,000,000,000 tonnes)
- The global mass of produced plastic is greater than all terrestrial and marine animals combined.
How We Build Matters
Most people still don’t think much about the sustainability and implicitly the environmental impact of their building materials. Cost followed by effectiveness is the governing principle and it’s usually the builder or architect making the decision. The good news is that awareness is on the rise about the importance of building with healthy, sustainable, high-performance materials. As we have discussed multiple times, an accurate analog is the organic food movement. Yes, the upfront cost can be more but ultimately what you get is a better product that also can have a far lesser impact on our planet.
If we were looking for more evidence that our built environment matters for the health of the planet then clearly this paper provides it. And we’ll gladly use this research as another reason to recommend education and informed decisions when it comes to building your own living space.
The building material choices we make do matter. Materials that are sustainably sourced, store carbon, biodegrade naturally, and also perform extremely well do exist. They are readily available in every aspect of your project. Please take the time and learn, advocate for a better space for you and your family, and let nature join you as the lucky recipient.
Here’s to more informed decisions and affecting positive change.