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Carbon Calculator: Climate Positive Design

The Pathfinder tool was designed by Pamela Conrad, Principal Land-scape Architect with CMG in San Francisco Ca. It puts the re-duction of carbon footprints and increased sequestration at the forefront of design with applicable metrics to reinforce the solution. The goal is to assist designers with a user-friendly tool that can make projects sequester more carbon than they emit and provide measurements that clients can understand.  

Students applied this tool to demonstrate how it worked to two of the individual student projects that follow:

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Case Study 1

"The Holyoke Strip" - Leilei Wu

The highest carbon-emitting material initially designed into this project was the stone paving. After inputting the original design specifications into the Pathfinder tool, a few alternative materials were suggested that are worth considering as a replacement, including: loose aggregate paving, wood decking, sand, stabilized crushed stone, and concrete unit pavers, among many other suggestions. 

The biggest changes per the tool’s suggestion were doubling the amount of vegetation and shrubs throughout the entire streetscape, changing from stone pavers to wood decking, and selecting pervious concrete. 


These basic material changes did not affect the concept of my project, enabling it to serve it’s original purpose, but radically improved the carbon-emissions and environmental impact of im-plementation. Switching to wood decking minimizes the amount of concrete and steel footings and carbon is stored in the wood permanently as long as the integrity of the wood is maintained. 


These simple changes decreased the project’s climate positive lifespan from eight years to climate-positive to a mere three years. 


Case Study 2

"Amphi-Garden" - Laura Cabral

This project was originally intended to be an inviting public space at one of the most prominent gateway locations in the city of Holyoke. Originally, I had intended to use linear concrete pavers, crushed stone, impervious concrete at the amphitheater stage, red brick to tie into the existing Holyoke Canal Walk, and reclaimed wood for built-in furniture among the amphitheater seating. 

After inputting the original material specifications into the Path-finder tool I received a list of effective material alternatives. The biggest change in the site was modifying the amphitheater area from concrete to wood decking. This significantly improved the site by not only ameliorating it’s carbon profile, but also by cre-ating a softer, warmer space. The wood decking not only is more inviting, but also directly improves the Heat Island Effect which is a major issue in South Holyoke where the project is located. 

The Pathfinder tool also prompted me to modify a lawn that I had placed at the center of the site. Originally, I had designed an accessible, yet highly maintained, lawn of about 330,000 SF. The lawn decreased in size by about a third and was replaced with no-mow native drought-tolerant meadow and multi-layered planting. 

The Pathfinder tool was an effective resource in not only im-proving the carbon profile of this project, but also enabled an added and unexpected benefit by improving the tactile quality of the site from an amphitheater space as an entirely hard material to a soft one.