The Reversing Climate Change podcast with Nori
A podcast about the different people, technologies, and organizations that are coming together to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse climate change. We also talk about blockchains.

#76: Innovations in Carbon Beneficial Building Materials—with Chris Magwood & Jacob Deva Racusin

May 28, 2019


Buckminster Fuller famously said that “waste materials are simply resources we haven’t found a use for.” So, what if we could use agricultural waste products like corn husks or coconut coir as building materials? The truth is that we can, and a number of innovative sustainable builders are working to not just reduce the carbon emissions associated with construction but turn homes and commercial buildings into carbon storage units. 

Chris Magwood is the executive director of The Endeavour Centre, a nonprofit sustainable building school in Ontario. He is also the author of seven books on sustainable building and the former operator of Camel’s Back Construction, a company responsible for the design and construction of 30-plus straw-bale homes and commercial buildings. Jacob Deva Racusin is the co-owner of New Frameworks, a carbon responsive building company offering services in green remodeling and new construction. He is a BPI-certified contractor and Certified Passive House Consultant and an active member of the Embodied Carbon Network’s Renewable Materials Task Force.

Today, Chris and Jacob join Ross, Christophe, and Alexsandra to explain how they each came to build straw-bale homes for their families—and how those independent ventures grew into businesses. They discuss the top themes covered at the Living Future Conference, including the connections between climate action and social justice and the need to leverage systems thinking as we scale climate solutions in building. Chris and Jacob share the possibilities around carbon beneficial multifamily buildings and walk us through the benefits of several carbon responsive building materials. Listen in for insight into end-of-life considerations for drawdown buildings and learn how we might leverage agricultural waste in a particular region to construct buildings that store carbon and reverse climate change now!


Endeavour Centre

New Frameworks

Living Future Conference

Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractors by Chris Magwood

Chris, Jacob & Ace’s Carbon Drawdown NOW! Presentation

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows

Kate Simenon on RCC EP061

The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller

Ann Edminster

Amanda Ravenhill on RCC EP019


Biomimicry Institute

WWF’s Greener Skies? Presentation

Fibersheds on RCC EP070

Carbon Leadership Forum

Embodied Carbon Network

Architecture 2030

Carbon Smart Materials Palette

Connect with Ross & Christophe


Nori on Facebook

Nori on Twitter

Nori on Medium

Nori on YouTube

Nori on GitHub

Nori Newsletter

Email [email protected]

Nori White Paper

Subscribe on iTunes

Carbon Removal Newsroom

Key Takeaways

[0:45] Chris’ path to reversing climate change

  • Built first straw-bale house in Ontario for family
  • Grew into contracting + teaching business
  • Master’s to study climate impacts of building

[6:26] Jacob’s path to reversing climate change

  • Search for home (wife chemically sensitive)
  • Solution to build own straw-bale house
  • Cofound carbon responsive building company

[10:57] The top themes at the Living Future Conference

  • Climate action + social justice simultaneous
  • Approach from systems thinking perspective

[14:19] The concept of decolonizing buildings

  • Put life back in soil AND plant stock in building
  • Connection between ecological + social justice

[18:26] The value in both reductionist AND systems thinking

  • Start with simple answer (e.g.: switch out foam for fiberboard)
  • Consider product chain as scale up, look at systems
  • Example to study embodied impact of passive house

[24:41] The possibilities around carbon beneficial multifamily buildings

  • Biogenetic materials in interiors (non-toxic certifications)
  • Moderate-story, mixed-use can store more carbon than skyscrapers

[32:24] Other innovative carbon beneficial building materials

  • Hempcrete
  • Coconut coir
  • Aggregate from carbonated waste
  • Agricultural residue

[40:59] How to identify ag waste for building materials

  • 10% of straw grown in US annually could insulate 2M homes
  • Map ecological services provided by developing regions

[45:38] The end-of-life considerations re: carbon stored in buildings

  • Build new construction to last long time
  • Make dismantlable
  • Turn into biochar, use stalk for fuel

[48:36] Why it’s easy to measure carbon storage in buildings

  • Variables skew numbers in energy-efficient buildings
  • One pound of straw = 48% carbon 

[50:44] How listeners can promote drawdown building

  • Organizations like Carbon Leadership Forum, Architecture 2030
  • Encourage alignment of regenerative ag + building industries
  • Support regional manufacturing (e.g.: micro-factories on farms)
  • Involvement in execution of climate policy
Stay up to date

Each week, Nori offers insights and shares success stories on how removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere is impacting our climate, and details on our marketplace progress and buildout for launch. Sign up to ensure you don’t miss an issue.

Or just say hello!

You can email us at [email protected]