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The modern built environment accounts for a staggering rate of 40% of global energy demand and as much as 35% of global emissions. This environmental challenge has essential implications for social justice, where disadvantaged and traditional communities are disproportionately impacted by rising global temperatures, drought, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, this problem is accelerating due to these communities adopting industrialized building practices.

A key solution for this problem is re-inserting natural building materials that are readily available, minimally processed, community-engaging, nontoxic, and provide optimal indoor air quality. This work addresses this need by catalyzing modern earthen architecture, using perception surveys, social and environmental lifecycle assessment, and policy analysis.

Using in-depth LCI and LCA analysis, our results quantified that the embodied energy demand is reduced by 62-71% by shifting from wood or concrete to earthen assemblies. In addition, the embodied global climate change impacts are reduced by 85-91%, the embodied air acidification is reduced by 79-95%, and the embodied particulate pollution is virtually eliminated.

The operational impacts were shown to be highly dependent on the hydrothermal properties and climate zone, but in all cases, earthen assemblies outperform conventional assemblies with light straw clay and insulated rammed earth the top performers for 6 different climates.