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Reducing Embodied Carbon in Buildings
We often think of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as something that comes from power plants and cars. But did you know that the buildings we live and work in are also a major source of CO2 emissions? In fact, embodied carbon – the emissions associated with the construction and materials of a building – can account for up to 30% of a building’s total carbon footprint.
So what can we do to reduce embodied carbon in our buildings? One way is to use
Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted during the production, transportation and installation of construction materials. It is a significant contributor to the climate impact of buildings and other structures, and its importance is likely to increase in the coming years as the built environment becomes an increasingly important driver of global emissions.
The good news is that there are a number of ways to reduce embodied carbon in buildings and other constructions. This report provides an overview of the issue and offers some recommendations for how to reduce embodied carbon emissions in the built environment.
What is Embodied Carbon?
Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere over the life-cycle of a material or a building product. embodied carbon is emitted when materials are extracted, processed, transported and installed. For example, the production of cement releases CO2, as does the production of steel. The transportation of these materials also emits CO2.
The embodied carbon of a building or product is the sum of all these emissions throughout its life-cycle.
It’s important to consider embodied carbon when designing or selecting building materials because emissions from material production can be a significant contributor to a project’s overall carbon footprint.
There are two types of embodied carbon: primary and secondary.
Primary embodied carbon is emitted during the material production process, while secondary embodied carbon results from the transportation and installation of materials.
Both types of emissions need to be considered when assessing a material’s embodied carbon footprint.
The embodied carbon of buildings and constructions
The embodied carbon of buildings and constructions is the total carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the support activities, construction, operation and decommissioning of a building or other construction over its entire life cycle.
Embodied carbon is a significant source of GHG emissions, accounting for an estimated 11% of global emissions in 2016. The International Energy Agency estimates that the building sector will be responsible for 19% of global energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050 if current trends continue.
There are many opportunities to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings and other constructions through better design, more efficient materials and construction methods, and increased use of renewable energy.
The benefits of reducing embodied carbon
The benefits of reducing embodied carbon are many and varied. Perhaps most significantly, it can help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a building or structure, and therefore the impact that it has on the environment. In turn, this can help to make a building or construction more sustainable in the long-term.
Other benefits of reducing embodied carbon include reducing the need for energy to be used during the construction process, and making buildings or constructions easier to recycle or reuse at the end of their lifespans. Additionally, it can help to improve indoor air quality and reduce the impact of a building or construction on local climates.
The challenges of Reducing Embodied Carbon
Despite being a significant part of the carbon footprint of a building or construction project, embodied carbon is often overlooked in favor of operational emissions. This is because embodied carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions occur during the manufacturing and transportation of building materials, whereas operational emissions occur when the buildings or constructions are occupied and used.
There are many reasons for this oversight, but one of the most significant is that it can be very difficult to accurately calculate the embodied carbon of a building or construction. This is because there are so many variables to consider, such as the type of materials used, how those materials were manufactured, and how they were transported to the site.
In addition, embodied carbon can be affected by factors that are out of the control of architects and engineers, such as changes in the global economy or fluctuations in the price of raw materials. As a result, it can be challenging to reduce embodied carbon without compromising other aspects of the project.
That said, there are a number of strategies that can be used to reduce the embodied carbon of a building or construction project. These include specifying low-carbon materials, using recycled or salvaged materials, and designing for modularity and disassembly.
Strategies for reducing embodied carbon
Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with the manufacturing of products used in construction, including materials, components, equipment and transportation.
Strategies for reducing embodied carbon vary depending on the project type and stage of development. Some common strategies include:
- Specifying lower-carbon materials
- Reusing or recycling materials
- Improving construction efficiency and waste management
- Minimizing transportation distances
The research shows that the production of construction materials is responsible for a significant proportion of total embodied carbon in buildings. The study also found that the recycling of construction waste can have a significant impact on reducing embodied carbon.
If you want to learn more about embodied carbon in buildings and constructions, there are a few key places to start.
- The International Energy Agency (IEA) report on embodied carbon in the building sector provides a comprehensive overview of the issue, including the latest data and trends. The report also includes policy recommendations for reducing embodied carbon in buildings.
- The US Department of Energy (DOE) has also published a report on the topic, which includes case studies of low-carbon building projects.
- Finally, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a report that provides an overview of the actions that various countries are taking to reduce embodied carbon in buildings.