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Shot of a room inside the 24 story HoHo Tower complex in Vienna.

The twenty-four-story high HoHo Tower complex in Vienna, Austria, is currently the world’s tallest timber building. It houses a hotel, apartments, a restaurant, a wellness center, and offices. Most of the building was prefabricated and assembled on-site. The construction system was kept deliberately simple, consisting of stacks of four prefabricated building elements: supports, joists, ceiling panels, and facade elements. About eight hundred wooden columns made of Austrian spruce carry the floors. It is designed to achieve “passive- house” energy efficiency.

Credit: DPA Picture Alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

Carbon Architecture

Call to action:

Transform buildings into carbon sinks by designing and constructing them with materials that sequester and store carbon.

The mining, manufacture, transport, installation, and maintenance of materials used in building construction generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases, called upfront or embodied carbon. This situation is changing. Traditional bio-based building materials such as wood, bamboo, straw, and hemp are being reformulated to be carbon negative. New architectural designs aim to be net zero. Innovations in carbon-storing products, including engineered living materials such as biocements, bioplastics, and mycelium-based composites and insulation, are emerging. Combining carbon-storing construction materials with cutting-edge technologies and design techniques can transform buildings from sources of emissions into global carbon sinks. Through research, investment, and collaboration across construction industries, we can move quickly to decarbonize the built environment while creating inspiring structures that promote health and well-being.

Action Items


Learn about the importance of carbon architecture. Nearly 40 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions originate from the building sector, of which 70 percent are produced by building operations, and the remaining 30 percent come from construction. Conventional cement production alone accounts for 7 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide, three times those produced by aviation. Steel and aluminum production also generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases. To meet global climate targets, all building emissions must be eliminated by 2040, especially since population growth is expected to fuel a doubling of the global building stock. A study showed that emissions from the new infrastructure could claim 30–60 percent of a remaining carbon budget based on limiting a global temperature increase to 2°C.

Promote and utilize materials that can transform the built environment into carbon sinks. Carbon architecture replaces high-emissions products with carbon-sequestering ones whose footprint and emissions can be measured using calculators, such as this Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). These materials are engineered to compete with and replace conventional counterparts in terms of durability, fire resistance, and structural strength. Common materials, whose embodied carbon coefficients can vary depending on harvesting, processing, and transport, include:

  • Wood: If the wood is properly sourced, mass timber—engineered wood products like glue-laminated timber (glulam) and cross-laminated timber (CLT)—can offer many advantages. In addition to having 70 percent lower carbon emissions than concrete, mass timber is also lighter and stronger, and more fire-resistant than steel and concrete. A research library of information can be found at ThinkWood. The Nature Conservancy initiated a global mass timber assessment, reported here.
  • Bamboo: A woody-stemmed grass that is known as the fastest-growing plant on earth, bamboo can be engineered into lumber to serve as a structural alternative to steel, concrete, and wood. It competes with these materials in strength, pliability, and fire resistance. Bamboo stores more carbon per ton than timber, and can be harvested sustainably for decades (see Bamboo Nexus).
  • Hemp: In use by humanity for centuries, hemp is fast-growing and versatile. Hempcrete, a lightweight concrete made out of hemp shiv, lime, and water, can be fabricated into blocks and panels and used as an alternative to concrete in non-load-bearing structures. Hempcrete is nontoxic, fireproof, mold resistant, and good at regulating moisture and heat (see Hemp Nexus).
  • Straw: A renewable agricultural by-product that stores carbon, straw can replace conventional insulation in exterior walls, offering good thermal and humidity control as well as structural integrity. Straw bale wall systems can withstand fire twice as long as those made with standard materials. A study in China showed the embodied carbon emissions of rural houses can be reduced by close to 40 percent when straw bale is used.
  • Clay: Clay has been used in building construction since the earliest human settlements. When mixed with water or reinforced with straw or bamboo (called adobe in parts of the world), it can help create durable products that substitute for concrete in countertops, flooring, and bricks, with very low embodied carbon.
  • Green cement: Humans have been perfecting concrete since the construction of ancient cities, and it remains our most widely used and most polluting building material, making it a top priority. Yet fixing concrete’s carbon footprint is complex, as emissions are embedded in the chemistry of conventional manufacturing. Global industry leaders have released a road map to fully decarbonize by 2050, involving renewable energy to heat the kilns needed for the process, recycling waste into components of concrete, and capturing CO2 on an industrial scale (see Green Cement Nexus).
  • Biocement: Cement binds together the aggregates that makeup concrete and is responsible for a large part of associated carbon emissions. Biocement uses living microorganisms that can be raised using photosynthesis, a process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. It can also reduce maintenance and extend the life of concrete buildings through the biogenic self-healing of cracks, currently the subject of research and development.

Visit carbon architecture buildings and see the materials in use.

Raise awareness about the benefits of carbon-negative materials. Lack of awareness about carbon architecture is among the top reasons for its slow uptake. Educating leaders in the building sector is key.

Attend training to learn how to build with carbon-negative materials. Regardless of your skill level, you can increase your familiarity and get hands-on experience building with a variety of these materials.

Volunteer to build community carbon architecture projects. Consider an eco-building service opportunity, or an organization like Red Feather that partners with Indigenous nations in the United States on sustainable housing, to help improve and build straw bale homes. Search for volunteer opportunities around the world on various natural building organizations’ social media groups, volunteer websites, and volunteer calendars.

Support innovative building materials companies on crowdfunding platforms. You can fund start-up companies via platforms like WeFunder, StartEngine, or Raise Green, which focuses on climate investment. These industry leaders might need extra support to purchase a first-of-a-kind hemp manufacturing facility, plant regenerative bamboo crops, or develop plant-derived cement alternatives.



Select carbon-negative materials for buildings. Firms across the world are pioneering carbon architecture across their project portfolios and can play an essential role in encouraging clients to shift towards regenerative materials. (See Key Players).

Learn from traditional and Indigenous examples of carbon architecture. Cultures around the world have a rich heritage of vernacular architecture that incorporates available natural materials and reflects local climate, geography, needs, and culture:


Invest in businesses that are developing innovative carbon-negative products for the construction industry. Research suggests that financing is one of the key obstacles in the sector’s tremendous potential for growth. Invest in help to scale up manufacturing and production or support research and development.

Home and Building Owners

Use carbon-negative materials in your home or building. Carbon architecture can be incorporated at scale by building the entire structure out of materials like engineered timber, adobe, or straw bale, or on a smaller scale by using natural materials like hemp for insulation or bamboo and cork for flooring. Here’s an article on finding a reliable and qualified green building professional.

Industry Associations and Networks

Address gaps in data and materials benchmarking to increase the adoption of carbon architecture. Since the field is still developing, collaborating and sharing information is critical to accelerating the efforts within the sector. Data standardization and knowledge sharing help quantify the life-cycle assessments (LCAs) of buildings more efficiently, supporting a rapid transition to net-zero buildings.

  • Publicly share resources and best practice strategies. Conduct and publish studies that explore the safety, durability, strength, cost, health, and environmental aspects and impacts of engineered natural building materials. See examples here and here.
  • Promote the wide use of standardized tools and databases that compare the carbon emissions of building materials. Available tools like Tally, Athena Impact Estimator, or OneClickLCA can help industry professionals evaluate building design choices and identify materials with the most regenerative potential, and include training on their use.

Advocate for the use of natural materials in construction. Industry and nonprofit groups play a key role in raising awareness and inspiring collaboration across the sector.

  • Join an initiative, like Built Environment Declares, and commit to a set of actions that challenge conventional building approaches and adopt regenerative design principles.
  • Ecological Building Network (EBNet) connects green construction innovators with designers, builders, engineers, and government officials, providing technical support and taking part in international conferences. Its BuildWell Source is an online library of low-carbon building information.
  • Architects! Climate Action Network is working to accelerate an industry-wide transition by hosting free educational events open to practitioners, owners, contractors, and policymakers.


Use regenerative farming and forestry practices when sourcing natural materials. To realize the full climate benefits of carbon architecture, the building materials themselves must be grown, managed, and harvested responsibly. Otherwise, an increased demand for products like wood or bamboo can contribute to global forest and land degradation through deforestation and clear-cutting, application of agricultural chemicals, and monocropped tree plantations.


Develop company-level carbon reduction goals that account for embodied emissions in buildings. Companies around the world have signed agreements such as the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment or put in place science-based targets, taking a first step toward identifying carbon footprints across all emissions scopes. Consider setting mandatory embodied carbon reduction targets for all new construction projects.

Consider using carbon architecture for your next new building. A variety of companies are already commissioning carbon architecture:


Incentivize the private sector to use low-impact materials in the built environment. Public actors can provide various forms of financial support for early adopters of carbon-negative materials. Also, because data and benchmarking information are still being standardized for carbon architecture, government programs can be structured to reward projects that incorporate knowledge sharing. Putting a price on carbon can be an effective way for governments to alter behavior in favor of greener materials.

Update regulations around building codes and standards. One of the big barriers to carbon architecture is that some local code officials still consider low-carbon building materials as a hazard despite the fact that some of these materials have been incorporated into the International Building Code since 2015.

  • Jurisdictions that have adopted codes that include natural materials include Washington and Oregon for tall mass timber and California for straw bale.
  • In the European Union, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden are leading the way toward carbon neutrality in the construction sector with regulations and initiatives, including the Green Deal that aims to promote circular buildings and low-carbon design.

Create procurement policies that mandate the use of carbon architecture in public construction projects. Develop policies that give clear goals to the market, such as:


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