Dispelling misconceptions about embodied carbon in buildings
Callum McMillan, Principal Engineer in our Civil and Structural team dispels the myths and misconceptions surrounding embodied carbon in building design.
We’re living in a warming climate. If we’re to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reach our net zero goals and minimise long-term societal impacts from global warming, the built environment sector needs to transform every aspect of designing, retrofitting and using buildings.
So, when misconceptions persist on the impact that embodied carbon has in the design of buildings, we have a problem. It risks stifling change. In reality, procurement, planning, design and construction of buildings are all over-due a shake-up.
Championing low-carbon design has to be the way forward, so what’s putting everyone off? Let’s dispel those misconceptions and myths.
Misconception: Embodied carbon isn’t significant compared to operational carbon
Reality: Not anymore, it’s the bigger slice of the pie!
Carbon emissions from the built environment account for 40% of all emissions. That’s far greater than the obvious culprits like cars and aviation.
Of that total, it’s tempting to lay the blame entirely at our modern-era obsession with gas-fired boilers to heat our homes and workplaces which over the years has resulted in a significant volume of operational carbon emissions. However, as buildings have become more efficient in their use of energy in the 21st century, so the ratio of operational to embodied carbon has changed.
By the late 2020s, embodied carbon will make up c40% of the whole life carbon of a building, and that figure is set to rise further still.