3 Steps To Reducing Embodied Carbon In Buildings

3 Steps To Reducing Embodied Carbon In Buildings

Embodied Carbon – What is it?

Embodied carbon is the term that people use to refer to the amount of carbon that is contained within the building fabric. It is the carbon cost of making the concrete, of mining the iron and processing the steel as well as the transportation of getting those materials to your building site. As our management of the operational energy in buildings increases, the embedded carbon costs become more and more important. Between now and 2050, carbon emissions released before a building is used will be responsible for around half of the entire carbon footprint of new constructions.

What can we do about it?

There are several ways that governments and other organisations are trying to manage and reduce the upfront carbon cost of a building:

Lifecycle Assessment (LCA)

LCA is the globally recognised standard for evaluating and reporting the lifetime impacts of a product, material, or building. Using an LCA approach in the manufacturing stage will improve the manufacturing, transportation, and end of life treatment of their products. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are used to communicate this information to the end-user & designers and developers can use these EPDs during the planning phase to optimise their carbon cost to monetary cost ratio. There are many free tools online that have been developed through cross-collaboration of several organisations such as One Click LCA Planetary and EC3.
New EPDs are being added to these tools constantly and by asking manufacturers to supply these at the point-of-sale developers and designers can increase this rate of change.

Green Public Procurement

GPP could be an avenue for driving this change in the manufacturing & construction industry in Ireland and abroad. The procurement power of government bodies can encourage the registration of EPDs and the acceptance of their requirement to the industry. Vancouver City Council aims to reduce their embedded carbon by 40% by 2030 and hope that this target will help drive local companies to deliver low carbon construction by encouraging innovation in the materials used, design & engineering of new builds. Closer to home, the new carbon budgets that the government announced as part of the recent Carbon Action and Low Carbon Development Bill will hopefully start bringing the cost of embedded carbon in the construction process into greater focus. The SEAI have a grant for major upgrades and new builds that show Excellence in Efficiency Design (EXEED) to influence and deliver best practices in energy-efficient design management.

Manufacturers Driving Change

Increasingly manufacturers are seeing the role they need to play in order to stay ahead of the publics ever-increasing environmental awareness. Manufacturers such as Cembureau, the European Cement Association, published its new Carbon Neutrality Roadmap setting out an ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They set out some political & technical recommendations as well as highlighting their need to reduce the carbon emissions at each stage of the value chain. The steel industry, the worlds largest materials industry, have recently come together to create the industry’s first global multi-stakeholder standard and certification initiative and part of their remit are to increase the sustainable and responsible sourcing of materials across the supply chain.

Figure 1 Source: https://www.igbc.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/IGBC-Report-Web-Final-21.06.18.pdf

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