As buildings become more energy efficient the embodied carbon within the supply chain assumes more importance

The mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (or carbon) emissions has become a principle objective in the design and construction of buildings but to date most discussions have be centred upon the operational emissions associated with HVAC, lighting and power consumption.

This is only half the picture and misses the key carbon emissions associated with the manufacture of materials and building construction.

The full lifecycle emissions of a building may only be measured by assessing the ‘total carbon footprint’ of a building over its entire lifecycle comprising the sum of the both the Operational Carbon (such as cooling, heating and lighting) and the Embodied carbon, (supply chain energy) and on-site construction).

As buildings have become more energy efficient, so the relative importance of the embodied carbon has grown and in a low energy building the carbon associated with materials and construction can be as high as 40% of the total lifetime impacts.

Next Steps

Given its importance within the UK’s total emissions, it now seems essential that the measurement of embodied carbon should become a necessary requirement within the building regulations and for planning. This would in turn place a requirement upon all manufacturers to assess their carbon footprint and to develop low carbon product solutions.

This could be achieved by requiring all new developments to calculate the total carbon footprint of the construction (over a given lifetime and to a given measurement protocol).

In addition, planners should be able to award Merton Rule compliance if developments meet reductions on either using on-site renewables or by providing embodied carbon reductions through their supply chain.

Guy Battle spoke at the Sustainability Now virtual on

  • 14 May. See his interview below.