The drive to reduce carbon emissions has focused on energy efficiency in buildings and renewable technologies, largely ignoring the huge amounts of embodied energy consumed by the build process

The total amount of embodied energy can be high, typically 20% of a building’s energy use during a 30-year life, equivalent to 10 times the annual use of office buildings.

Industry recognises it is essential to look at existing stock if we are to tackle government reduction targets. Instead of demolishing and starting again, it is always worth considering refurbishment.

The full environmental impact of transporting demolition material to landfill, and new materials from around the world, must be considered. There are no regulatory requirements for embodied energy and while the tools are available, the industry rarely applies them. This must change.

Building Regulations and the Code for Sustainable Buildings should be developed to respect the importance of embodied energy. The balance between operating and embodied energy should be assessed for every refurbishment versus new-build by an appropriate specialist.

Peter O’Halloran, partner, Cundall