The United States has an estimated 19 million abandoned properties, and although this number is difficult to gauge, it reveals a magnitude of neglect that sets the stage for preservation and reuse. The modern urge to build “bigger and better” often overshadows the opportunity to adapt and reuse what we already have. Starting from scratch, however, carries an impressive environmental cost that can often be drastically reduced by renovating existing space instead. 

The built environment produces around 40% of carbon emissions in the US, with 13% coming from the construction sector alone. In contrast, reuse projects can dramatically cut down on these emissions, while often preserving spaces that are integral to the identity of their communities. According to the Carbon Leadership Forum, by committing to adapting existing buildings and retrofitting them with energy-efficient upgrades, we can save between 50 to 75 percent of the carbon that would be required to construct similar structures. 

Building reuse is climate action because it presents a realistic path forward for design and construction. By encouraging reuse we can reduce our carbon emissions while preserving and improving the historic structures that define our built environment. 


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