It was two-plus years ago that I first heard of the BEAM Estimator from Chris Magwood, executive director of The Endeavour Centre in Peterborough, Ontario. I recall him saying, “It’s just about ready to launch,” so I kept my eye out—for a long time. And it’s finally here, available for free to all. The team at Builders for Climate Action has been working tirelessly for all that time fine-tuning the Building Emissions Accounting for Materials (BEAM) software, a digital carbon footprint calculator.
“It has taken longer than we thought it would to get BEAM out into the world, but the tool has grown to be much better than we ever could have imagined,” says Magwood of the lengthy wait for public release.
Launched on May 3, 2022, BEAM is the brainchild of a small group of design-build professionals in the low-rise residential sector, who were in search of a tool for measuring the upfront carbon emissions generated by their projects. They sought something “easy to use, intuitive, and comparative,” according to Magwood. It didn’t exist, so they built it.
BEAM’s combined functionalities allow users to make project-specific materials selections, identify materials with the biggest carbon penalty, and find alternatives. Users input the main dimensions of a building and are given a list of available materials for the primary assemblies and the carbon impact of each product. It’s possible to choose materials to create a model of an assembly or a whole building and make side-by-side comparisons between products to arrive at informed, climate-smart decisions.
“We developed BEAM as practitioners for practitioners, and to meet the needs of project teams looking for a quick and easy-to-use manual entry tool, as opposed to a more complex tool designed for larger commercial projects or built off BIM platforms,” says Jacob Deva Racusin, Director of Building Science and Sustainability at New Frameworks. “It was also important for us to make a tool that included many of the carbon-storing and non-conventional materials missing from most tools, as well as one that accounts for material carbon storage.”
The hope is for developers, designers, consultants, and builders to make using BEAM standard practice. The creators envision green-building rating programs and government agencies recommending the tool to program participants.
While initially intended for smaller projects and firms, Deva Racusin says the team has since realized BEAM’s potential in early-phase modeling on larger projects and research studies for large-scale benchmarking, among other applications. He notes, too, that part of BEAM’s value is the ability to see the emissions data for all the available materials in a particular category (for example, exterior wall cavity insulation) at a glance, rather than having to run a full model to get an output.
“We’re excited by the enthusiasm that’s being expressed in the industry for BEAM,” says Magwood. “We’ve already seen the positive changes that have been inspired by the early beta users and are looking forward to seeing that impact broaden.” That optimism is backed by first-hand experience watching people make changes to their specs when they see the associated carbon-output data.
The decision to make BEAM free was carefully considered, as it was largely funded internally by the Centre, a small nonprofit, and monetary payback would have been welcomed for the years and resources put into the effort. But making it free meant its immediate availability to anyone looking to reduce their carbon footprint as quickly as possible, which is the reason it was created. As Magwood puts it: “A climate emergency is no time for paywalls.”
Because BEAM has developed into such a robust tool, the team designed a training course explaining how to use it. It takes three 1-1/2-hour sessions to complete and promises a solid foundation in embodied carbon accounting and strategies for integrating the tool into business practices. For a demonstration on how to use BEAM by Chris Magwood and Jacob Deva Racusin, tune into the BS* + Beer Show on July 7.
Kiley Jacques is senior editor at Green Building Advisor.
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