Whole Life Carbon In Construction And The Built Environment In Ireland

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Irish Construction News

A UCD report commissioned by the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) estimates that the construction and operation of buildings account for 37% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the same as agriculture.

Just under two-thirds (23%) of these emissions come from operating buildings, but more than a third (14%) come from the manufacture and transporting of building materials and construction of buildings – usually referred to as embodied carbon (All the activities of procuring, mining, harvesting raw materials, transforming these materials into construction products, transporting them to site and incorporating them into a building, and subsequently maintaining, replacing and removing and disposing of at the end of their life). The report shows that these embodied emissions will increase significantly if housing and infrastructure plans for the rest of the decade are carried out in a business-as-usual fashion, effectively cancelling out the emissions savings being made by the ongoing switch to renewable energy.

To address this issue, the IGBC, in close cooperation with key stakeholders, has developed a Roadmap to decarbonise Ireland’s built environment across its whole life cycle. The Roadmap aims to outline the legal, technical, and material changes we need to see this decade to halve the construction sector’s emissions by 2030.

The legal and regulatory environment

In 2021, the EU published the Level(s) framework with the aim of creating a common language for assessing and reporting on the sustainability performance of buildings across their whole life cycle. Level(s) includes an indicator on whole-life carbon assessment, and it is already being used to assess projects under the EU Taxonomy. The Taxonomy aims to direct investment toward sustainable projects. In simple terms, the more environmentally-friendly a project is, the easier it is to obtain funding at a lower interest rate. Many certification schemes in Europe, including Ireland’s national certification for sustainable residential development, the Home Performance Index, are being aligned with Level(s).

As well as the financial markets, public procurement should contribute to a reduction in embodied carbon emissions. Level(s) is referenced in the EPA Green Public Procurement (GPP) guidance and the recent update to the National Policy on Architecture. As part of the review of the Capital Works Management Framework, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) is implementing the International Cost Management Standard Framework (ICMS3), which accounts for the interrelationship between construction costs and carbon emissions in reporting templates. Once implemented, it will enable carbon reporting throughout all construction projects’ lifecycles. Within the next five years, reductions in embodied carbon emissions will be directly driven by building regulations. For the first time, the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will include requirements for whole-life carbon (WLC) assessment, aligned with the Level(s) framework. Similar requirements already exist in France, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and the UK. The industry-led Part-Z campaign to include WLC in building regulations in the UK gives a taste of what the requirements may look like.

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