[1] Decarbonizing the Built Environment

Circular Cities 2030
8 min readMay 18


Seattle’s built environment is a significant source of carbon emissions, contributing to air pollution, environmental degradation, and the acceleration of climate change.

Building decarbonization refers to the process of reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from the operation of buildings. It is a crucial component of efforts to mitigate climate change and transition to a more sustainable and low-carbon future.

Buildings are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through energy consumption for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances. Decarbonizing the building sector involves implementing various strategies to reduce energy consumption and shift to cleaner energy sources, ultimately achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Seattle’s commercial and residential buildings contribute to more than one-third of the city’s overall carbon emissions, with more than 90% of daily emissions coming from the combustion of fossil fuels such as gas and oil for heating, hot water, and cooking. These emissions have a detrimental impact on the health of Seattle residents. To address this pressing issue, Seattle has set ambitious climate goals, aiming to reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 40% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. [Building Seattle Better]

Decarbonizing Seattle’s built environment won’t be easy — it is a crucial step towards prioritizing local climate change adaptation and mitigation measures — as an ongoing process, it will require a multi-faceted approach and the commitment of various stakeholders. Collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement are key. To achieve these targets, the City of Seattle will prioritize the following actions:

  • Transition to renewable energy: Shift away from fossil fuel-based heating systems and promote the adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Encouraging the installation of renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, on buildings to generate clean electricity can also work to feed the grid, strengthening resiliency.
  • Electrify building systems: Replace fossil fuel-dependent systems with electric alternatives. This includes transitioning from gas or oil furnaces to electric heat pumps for space heating and cooling, using electric water heaters instead of gas-fired ones, and promoting electric induction cooktops for cooking.
  • Improve energy efficiency: Enhance the energy efficiency of buildings through insulation upgrades, efficient windows and doors, and optimized HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Implement smart building technologies and energy management systems to optimize energy usage and reduce waste.
  • Retrofit and renovate: Encourage building owners to undertake energy-efficient retrofits and renovations through financial incentives, low-interest loans, or property tax credits. This can help improve the energy performance of existing buildings and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Enforce energy codes and standards: Strengthen enforcement of building energy codes and standards to ensure new construction and renovations meet high energy efficiency requirements. This includes promoting green building certifications and incentivizing compliance with energy-efficient practices.
  • Incentivize renewable energy and energy efficiency: Provide financial incentives, tax credits, and rebates to support the installation of renewable energy systems and energy-efficient technologies in buildings. Explore innovative financing options to facilitate investments in sustainable building upgrades.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders: Foster partnerships between government agencies, industry experts, utilities, building owners, and community organizations to develop and implement effective decarbonization strategies. Encourage knowledge sharing, collaboration, and the exchange of best practices to accelerate progress towards meeting the regions climate goals.
  • Equity considerations: Ensure that decarbonization efforts prioritize equitable outcomes by targeting resources and support to communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change.
  • Data monitoring and benchmarking: Establish systems for tracking and monitoring building energy performance, including carbon emissions. Implement benchmarking programs that require building owners to report their energy usage, providing transparency and driving improvements.

By implementing these measures, the City of Seattle can make significant strides in reducing the carbon emissions from its built environment, working towards meeting its climate targets. The transition to clean energy and energy-efficient building practices will not only contribute to climate change mitigation but also improve air quality, enhance energy affordability, and create green jobs, fostering a more sustainable and resilient city for future generations.


According to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), the city of Seattle produces approximately 560,000 tons of construction and demolition debris annually. This waste constitutes one of the largest single sources of waste in Seattle.

Construction and demolition debris primarily consists of concrete, wood, and metal, which present difficulties in terms of recycling and composting due to their unique characteristics. As a result, a considerable amount of this debris is disposed of in landfills, leading to negative environmental impacts such as air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. [Construction and Demolition Debris]


Building a circular world signifies the shift towards an economic system focused on waste elimination, resource efficiency, and the regeneration of natural systems. In this paradigm, materials, products, and resources are continually utilized, reused, and recycled in a closed-loop cycle, minimizing the demand for new raw materials and mitigating environmental consequences.

Circular Feedstocks refer to building materials and resources that are sourced from renewable or recycled sources and can be used in construction, renovation, and maintenance processes. These feedstocks help reduce reliance on virgin materials, minimize waste generation, and help to promote the creation of both local and regional circular economies. Examples of circular feedstocks include:

  • Recycled aggregates: are materials derived from the processing and reuse of construction and demolition waste. These aggregates are typically produced by crushing and screening waste materials such as concrete, bricks, asphalt, and rocks, and then sorting and processing them to meet specific quality standards. Crushed concrete, asphalt, and other construction waste can be processed and reused as aggregates for road construction, concrete production, and other applications.
  • Reclaimed wood: refers to timber that has been salvaged from old buildings, structures, or other sources and then repurposed for various applications. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to using new timber and offers several benefits. Salvaged or repurposed wood from old buildings, pallets, or other sources can be used for various purposes, including flooring, furniture, and structural elements.
  • Recycled plastic: Plastic waste can be transformed into recycled plastic lumber, which can be used for decking, fencing, and other applications. It helps reduce plastic pollution and extends the lifespan of materials.
  • Reused bricks and masonry: refer to the practice of salvaging and repurposing bricks and other masonry materials from demolished or renovated structures. Salvaged bricks and masonry materials can be cleaned and reused in new construction projects or for restoration purposes, reducing the need for new production.
  • Reclaimed metals: also known as recycled or salvaged metals, refer to metals that have been recovered from post-consumer or post-industrial sources and processed for reuse. Instead of extracting raw materials from mines, reclaimed metals undergo a recycling process, reducing the need for new mining activities and the associated environmental impacts. Scrap metal can used in the fabrication of structural components, fixtures, and decorative elements. It helps conserve natural resources and reduces the energy required for metal production.
  • Bio-based materials: also known as biomaterials, are materials derived from renewable sources such as plants, animals, or microorganisms. They are an alternative to conventional materials that are derived from fossil fuels or have significant environmental impacts. Bio-based materials have gained attention due to their potential to reduce carbon emissions, decrease dependence on finite resources, and promote a more sustainable and circular economy. Renewable materials such as bamboo, straw, and hemp can be used as alternatives to traditional construction materials. These materials have a lower carbon footprint and can be replenished more quickly than conventional resources.
  • Industrial byproducts: refer to the materials or substances that are produced as a secondary output during industrial processes. These by-products can vary widely depending on the industry and specific processes involved. Certain waste streams from industries, such as fly ash from power plants or blast furnace slag from steel production, can be repurposed as supplementary cementitious materials in concrete, reducing the need for cement and decreasing carbon emissions.
  • Closed-loop systems: also known as closed-loop recycling or closed-loop supply chains, are systems that aim to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency by maintaining the continuous flow of materials within a circular economy. In a closed-loop system, products or materials are recycled or reused at the end of their life cycle to create new products, closing the loop and minimizing the need for extracting virgin resources. Implementing systems that allow for the recovery and reuse of materials within the built environment, such as water recycling systems or on-site composting, can minimize waste generation and create a more circular approach.
  • Modular construction: is an innovative approach to building that involves constructing individual modules or components off-site in a controlled factory environment. These modules are then transported to the construction site and assembled to create a complete structure. Emphasizing modular construction techniques enables the reuse and repurposing of building components, allowing for greater flexibility and resource efficiency.
  • Design for disassembly: is an approach that focuses on creating buildings and products with the intention of easy and efficient disassembly at the end of their lifecycle. It involves designing components and systems that can be easily separated, removed, and reused or recycled. Designing buildings and infrastructure with the ability to easily disassemble and recover materials at the end of their life cycle promotes circularity. It facilitates the recycling or repurposing of components and reduces waste.

When combined, these processes will generate a greater demand for skilled workers in areas such as renewable energy installation and maintenance, energy-efficient building design, green construction, urban planning, and more. This transition necessitates innovation and the adoption of new technologies, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurship and job creation in emerging sectors. By embracing circular economy principles, we have the potential to generate employment opportunities throughout the greater PNW, embracing the challenges now present in the 21st century with open arms.

Facilitating the circular transformation of today’s material world involves understanding the environmental and social impacts of our material choices and taking steps towards more sustainable practices.

Circular Seattle is an art and industry initiative designed to promote resiliency in the 21st century. This initiative aims to foster collaboration between the art and industrial sectors to drive innovation, sustainability, and circularity in the greater Seattle community.

Through Circular Seattle, artists, designers, and industrial professionals come together to explore creative solutions for building a more resilient and sustainable city for future generations. The initiative encourages the integration of circular economy principles, such as resource efficiency, waste reduction, and material reuse, into artistic and industrial practices.

By bridging the gap between art and industry, Circular Seattle seeks to inspire new ways of thinking and working that prioritize environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic prosperity. Through exhibitions, workshops, and collaborations, the initiative aims to raise awareness about the importance of circularity and engage the community in meaningful dialogue and action.

Circular Seattle recognizes that achieving resiliency in the 21st century requires a collective effort and cross-sector partnerships. By bringing together the creative vision of artists and the technical expertise of the industrial sector, the initiative strives to catalyze positive change and create a more sustainable and resilient future for the City of Seattle and beyond.

stay tuned…



Circular Cities 2030