Niall Burke

May 22, 2023 • Sustainability

Personal Vs Professional Emissions Reduction: An Exploration of Sustainable Choices

Climate action needs both personal choices and professional innovations for a sustainable future


Climate change, a global environmental crisis, is fueled by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing these emissions is critical to mitigating the impact of climate change. The scope of emission reduction can be viewed from two major perspectives: personal and professional. In this article, we will compare the reduction in emissions an individual can make through personal lifestyle choices versus the potential for reduction that a construction professional or structural engineer can achieve through the design and creation of sustainable, efficient buildings.

Personal Emission Reductions

Every individual can contribute to emission reductions by making environmentally friendly decisions. This includes adopting renewable energy sources, opting for public transportation or electric vehicles, reducing meat consumption, and recycling.

According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American was responsible for about 16 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2018. This could be significantly reduced with personal action. For example, a switch to a plant-based diet could save up to 1.5 tons of CO2-equivalent per person per year, according to a study by the University of Oxford. Similarly, using public transportation or carpooling instead of private vehicles could cut personal CO2 emissions by up to 1.8 tons annually, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Shifting to renewable energy at home could also make a significant difference. If an average household switched from conventional to renewable energy, it could prevent approximately 4.7 tons of CO2 emissions per year, according to the EPA.

However, personal action has its limits. Not everyone has access to public transportation or the financial means to install solar panels or buy an electric car. Furthermore, the impact of personal decisions is inherently limited by the scale: even if everyone took action, structural changes are needed for significant global emission reductions.

Professional Emission Reductions: Sustainable Construction

Professionals in the construction industry, particularly structural engineers, have a significant role to play in emission reduction. The building sector is responsible for nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions, according to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. Making buildings more efficient and sustainable can have a substantial impact on emission reduction.

One way to achieve this is through the design of energy-efficient buildings. This can reduce energy use for heating, cooling, and lighting. The Passive House standard, an international benchmark for energy-efficient design, can reduce the energy used for heating and cooling by up to 90%, compared to a conventional building.

Structural engineers can also use sustainable materials to reduce emissions. The manufacture of traditional building materials like concrete and steel is carbon-intensive. By contrast, using engineered timber can turn buildings into carbon sinks, storing CO2 rather than emitting it. A 2017 study by the University of Cambridge found that a switch to timber construction could save up to 0.8 tons of CO2 per square meter of floor area compared to traditional methods.

Furthermore, retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency can also lead to significant emission reductions. A 2020 study by the Global Buildings Performance Network found that deep energy retrofits could reduce energy use by up to 80% in existing buildings.


Both personal and professional actions are critical for reducing emissions and combating climate change. On a personal level, changes in diet, transport, and energy use can have a substantial impact, but are inherently limited in scope. On a professional level, particularly in the construction industry, the potential for emission reductions is massive. By designing energy-efficient buildings and using sustainable materials, professionals can reduce emissions on a larger scale.

However, these two perspectives shouldn't be considered in isolation. Personal choices can drive demand for sustainable buildings, and structural changes in the construction industry can make it easier for individuals to live sustainably. To achieve the levels of emissions reductions necessary to limit global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement, both individual actions and industry-wide transformations need to be pursued aggressively.

As consumers, individuals can help drive this change by demanding more sustainable and efficient buildings. Opting for homes or offices designed to green standards or insisting on retrofitting existing structures for better energy efficiency can create a shift in market demand. It is this demand that can stimulate more sustainable practices in the construction industry.

On the other hand, construction professionals and structural engineers can influence personal emission reduction indirectly. By creating buildings that are more energy-efficient, they can help inhabitants reduce their carbon footprints. Furthermore, their innovations can help make sustainable living more accessible and affordable for the masses.

Moreover, policy interventions can significantly boost the efforts of individuals and professionals. Governments can incentivize the use of renewable energy, promote public transportation, and impose stricter regulations on building codes and standards. Such policies can reduce the burden on individuals to make sustainable choices and make it easier for construction professionals to adopt greener practices.

As a society, we need to foster a culture of sustainability where each person's efforts to reduce emissions, whether on a personal or professional level, are encouraged and valued. Embracing sustainable living practices, designing energy-efficient buildings, using sustainable materials, retrofitting existing buildings, and promoting sustainable city planning are all crucial components of a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

In conclusion, the fight against climate change is not a question of personal versus professional emission reductions. It is about creating a synergistic effect where personal decisions support sustainable industries, and professionals, in turn, create an environment that supports and encourages sustainable personal choices. The challenge of climate change is significant, but with coordinated efforts across all levels of society, we can make the necessary changes to ensure a sustainable future.

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