A whole-life carbon approach is the key to achieving up to a 40% reduction in carbon
Huge reductions in carbon emissions in the built environment are necessary to meet the UK’s legal obligations. Today the methods for tackling this are restricted, inefficient and expensive, and further sustainability generally is seen as an expensive ‘add on’. But it is possible to make huge emissions reductions for zero cost: you just have to think “whole life carbon”.
First off, reducing emissions does not need to cost money, and can actually reduce costs and increase value. It is entirely possible to achieve massive cost free carbon reductions (up to 40%) over the life of a building by taking an embodied and whole-life carbon approach. By increasing a building’s life expectancy and reducing the need to replace elements through better design you reduce emissions costs and increase value.
This may require legislative change. Sustainability legislation is out of date and is therefore missing out on easily achievable wins. Delivering emissions savings as set out through Part L, BREEAM, and Code for Sustainable Homes and so on is increasing expensive to achieve, and only focuses on a small part of the energy a building uses over its life. We therefore need to target the total energy use of making and using a building.
Sustainability legislation is out of date and is therefore missing out on easily achievable wins
Therefore, whole-life carbon (WLC) assessments make economic sense. WLC makes plain the embodied energy costs of achieving operational energy savings and avoids the unintended consequences of making decisions based on day-to-day energy use alone. WLC also places a carbon value on existing structure and fabric in relation to new build – so you start with a carbon credit – and promotes efficient use of resources.
Such an approach often makes it clear how carbon efficient the reuse of existing buildings can be. A quality retrofit is often more energy efficient than an equivalent Passivhaus. This is because the retention of the fabric of, say, a Victorian terrace house, gives you a substantial carbon credit that compares favourably with the better day-to-day energy efficiencies of an equivalent Passivhaus. The retained structure and fabric are a carbon resource, which help reduce a refurbishment’s carbon footprint in relation to an equivalent new build.
A quality retrofit is often more energy efficient than an equivalent Passivhaus
Finally, it is clear that beauty is the cornerstone of low-carbon design. Good architecture is kept and looked after and is therefore a great carbon investment. Poor design gets replaced and is a waste of resources.
Simon Sturgis is managing director of Sturgis Carbon Profiling