Tackling climate change and cutting carbon is the key to our collective futures, despite denials from many quarters – and especially in light of 2015’s Paris Agreement.
One part of the problem might be the confusion that carbon is tucked away in many forms and emissions can come from many sources. The traditional approach to reducing carbon emissions has been to focus on ‘easy-win’ options from operational efficiencies. But this doesn’t go far enough if we are to achieve the global aims set out in the Paris Agreement, and industry needs to tackle the built environment’s embodied carbon as the next step.
You might not have known that buildings account for about a third of global energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
A major part of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C will come from cutting carbon in construction projects – whether for buildings or infrastructure – but what IS embodied carbon and how does it affect the problem? It’s sometimes called embedded carbon too, but I think the terms are fairly interchangeable and mean more or less the same thing. The industry tends to use the term embodied carbon, but why does it matter anyway and what are we doing about it?
Embodied carbon is a term for all the CO2 emitted during the extraction, manufacture, transport and construction of materials or products from raw materials, together with ‘end of life’ emissions from demolition, disposal and recycling. It is usually expressed in kilogrammes of CO2 equivalent per kilogramme of product or material. Emissions from the whole building process (from construction, to in-use, to end-of-life) and including all the fixtures and fittings inside and out, all count towards a project’s embodied carbon.
Material production and the construction process accounts for around two-thirds of carbon emissions during a building’s 25-year lifespan. Embodied carbon measurements can be used to compare the environmental impacts of different building materials, designs and construction processes, helping to identify parts which are carbon-intensive and promote alternative options which reduce the amount of CO2 emissions. This is why clients are increasingly focused on lowering carbon through design specifications – a simple but effective tactic. But because embodied carbon encompasses such a large number of elements, measuring it can be seen as complex and there is currently no standard industry approach.
As a Gold Leaf member of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), Carillion has supported a campaign to pragmatically measure carbon from construction to demolition. We’ve helped UKGBC to create guidance that will clearly describe the steps needed for clients to consider embodied carbon and request assessments from their supply chains. The free guidance provides a platform for readily-available information which is accessible to all, and aims to drive action on embodied carbon across the whole industry.
What can you do? Look it up, share the news with all your clients, and help us to get embodied carbon ‘embedded’ into mainstream thinking!