Embodied Ecological Impacts

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The impact of the materials we use in our built environment is not limited to carbon emissions. This knowledge hub explores the global ecological impacts of the building materials we use in the UK, and how to avoid harm and maximise nature-positivity.

We are in the middle of a global biodiversity crisis, with a 69% decline in global biodiversity populations since 1970. Biodiversity is increasingly being considered within the built environment, alongside the recognised need for green and healthy urban environments. However, worldwide only 1% of our planet’s surface area is used for buildings and infrastructure, so focusing on the site level alone will not be enough to tackle our global nature and biodiversity crisis.

The impacts of the construction industry reach beyond the footprints of our towns and cities and they extend well beyond country borders. In a world of globalised trade and supply chains, many negative impacts are transferred to sites and areas remote from the building site, such as deforestation, water scarcity, pollution, and even violent conflicts. These can be hard to identify in a fragmented, global industry that often lacks transparency.

We need to consider the full picture of the way we impact nature via the ways we do business. This includes ecological impacts as a result of material extraction and within our supply chains. This is what we call embodied ecological impacts.

Introduction & Context

What do we mean by Embodied Ecological Impacts?

Similar to embodied carbon, embodied ecological impacts are caused by the resource extraction and manufacturing process, such as the production and transportation of raw materials and the disposal of unused materials. These impacts occur offsite, mainly via materials extraction and the supply chain. Local, on-site impacts of the built environment on biodiversity are not included in this definition.

Ecological impacts refer to the effects of human activities on the natural environment, ecosystems, and biodiversity. These impacts can be both positive and negative, and they may be direct or indirect, depending on where you sit in the supply chain. The work presented here focuses mainly on negative and indirect ecological impacts.


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