Ambitious Strategies to Drastically Reduce Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment

Published by firstgreen on

Embodied carbon emissions, an often overlooked aspect of greenhouse gas emissions, include all emissions linked to building construction, such as extraction, transportation, manufacturing, and installation of construction materials, along with operational and end-of-life emissions. As we approach a critical decade for climate action, the urgency to reduce embodied carbon emissions has never been greater. In this comprehensive guide, we explore specific strategies to minimize embodied carbon in the built environment.

1. Selection of Low Carbon Materials: The First Step Towards Embodied Carbon Reduction

According to Architecture 2030, concrete, steel, and aluminum contribute to 23 percent of total global emissions. However, two materials that seem identical might have vastly different embodied carbon footprints. The right material selection and policy design can drastically reduce these emissions. For instance, a beam made from 100% recycled steel, manufactured with renewable energy, has a significantly lower embodied carbon footprint compared to a virgin steel beam produced using a coal-fired furnace.

To make a substantial dent in embodied carbon emissions, architects and construction engineers need to adopt recycled aggregates, greener concrete options, reclaimed structural steel, FSC certified timber, and innovative carbon-negative materials like plant-based insulation. Such materials not only sequester carbon but also lessen the embodied carbon content.

2. Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis: An Essential Tool for Reducing Embodied Carbon

Performing a Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis (WBLCA) offers a detailed account of a building’s potential environmental impact from the design phase through the end of its life cycle. This process allows design teams to highlight environmental issues and identify more sustainable alternatives. WBLCA includes compiling an inventory of relevant material inputs and environmental outputs associated with a building and interpreting the results to make eco-friendly decisions. Tools like Tally, OneClick LCA, EC3, or Athena are instrumental in accurately calculating embodied carbon.

3. Low Carbon Procurement Policies: A Must-Adopt Strategy for All

One effective way to control embodied carbon emissions is by implementing low carbon procurement policies. Designers can request the embodied carbon footprint information of the mix designs, such as concrete, and select the bid based on carbon footprint alongside cost. The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) is a crucial tool designed for this purpose.

4. Carbon Offsets: A Strategic Approach to Counteract Embodied Carbon

Carbon offsets present another solution to manage embodied carbon emissions. By making a one-time purchase, businesses can offset the emissions produced during the construction of new buildings or renovations. Transparency is a critical prerequisite in selecting, analyzing, purchasing, and offsetting embodied carbon.

Investing in low-carbon materials, performing WBLCA, implementing low-carbon procurement policies, and purchasing carbon offsets are actionable steps that can drastically reduce the carbon footprint in the built environment. These strategies are not just about future-proofing our world; they also open up the scope for innovation, cost savings, and improved wellbeing.

With an urgent focus on these strategies, we can ensure that our buildings and infrastructure of the future contribute significantly to the reduction of embodied carbon emissions. This is no longer a mere possibility but a necessity for survival, and the building industry has a critical role to play in the transition towards a more sustainable future.

Categories: Uncategorized