How to calculate embodied carbon for the 2030 Climate Challenge

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Jess Hrivnak looks at the objectives and ambitions of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, and explains how to calculate embodied carbon and check that your design aligns with its targets

Launched in 2019, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is the Institute’s response to the climate emergency. The challenge sets out ambitious targets for operational energy, embodied carbon and potable water to be achieved in buildings in use. Signatories undertake to attempt the targets and to submit project performance data to the RIBA via the Data Submission Form, and some analysis is required to submit completed projects.

But how do you analyse your buildings’ embodied carbon and check their alignment against the challenge targets? This outline of the basics is followed by a case study that provides an example for how projects may be self-assessed, and how lessons learnt can feed into future design work.


The objective of the RIBA challenge targets is to reduce the climate change impact of the constructed building itself – its materials, products and the maintenance of these over its lifetime.

To do this, architects need to make informed choices based on knowledge of the relative carbon impacts between different building systems and materials. Lean building design is the precursor to material choice. Materials must therefore be chosen judiciously, fulfilling performance specification requirements at the lowest carbon ‘cost’.

Collaboration with the design team

By focussing on a measured target for embodied carbon in completed building projects, the challenge urges the architectural community to get to grips with data analysis, even though this is a task that some may feel less comfortable undertaking.

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