Reducing Embodied Carbon – how easy can it be?

Paul King has just written a great blog, available from Building (free registration required) talking about his reaction to Embodied Carbon Week, and where we go from here.

Paul’s initial scepticism that Embodied Carbon could be of interest for a whole week was unfounded, and what the more than 20 packed events “demonstrates is the amazing level of interest in how we go about tackling embodied carbon in buildings”.

As Paul says, embodied carbon was highlighted by the Green Construction Board Routemap as one means of reducing carbon – the routemap requires a 21% reduction in embodied carbon (“capital carbon” in the routemap terminology) by 2022.  But are such reductions possible.  Well the news is good.  Many of those projects which have measured and tried to reduce embodied carbon have been very successful, and in many cases, they have found that it brings costs savings alongside.  For example:

  • M&S’s Bradford Distribution Centre achieved a 26% reduction in embodied carbon.
  • One Brighton achieved a 25% reduction in embodied carbon compared to the average UK home.
  • Lend Lease’s Elephant and Castle development shows potential savings in embodied carbon of up to 30%
  • Anglian Water’s Covenham to Boston water transfer scheme* achieved a 12,000t (57 per cent) reduction in capital carbon and
    associated £13 million cost saving by building less and building clever
  • Connect Plus*, a joint venture between Skanska, Balfour Beatty, Atkins and Egis Projects, realised a 115,000t reduction in capital carbon and cut the outturn cost by £53 million through building clever and building efficiently during the widening of a 63km length of the M25 motorway.
  • Olympic Park* – structures, bridges and highways – Capital carbon was cut by a quarter across the Olympic park infrastructure projects between the initial and construction design stages

* all taken from HM Treasury’s Infrastructure Carbon Review.

The simple answer is that until you start thinking about something, you’re unlikely to be doing it efficiently.  The Dutch have recently implemented Embodied Carbon into their Building Regulations – a building LCA using approved tools and a national database must be undertaken for all new houses and offices over 100 square metres.  At present, no levels are set, but it is clear that after a short amount of time a considerable database will be available to set benchmarks and encourage reductions through further regulation.

Let’s hope that Government have seen the enthusiasm and interest in embodied carbon, and recognise that industry has the opportunity and potential to make significant reductions.  WRAP’s embodied carbon database – incorporating existing data on building level embodied carbon is a great first step.  What appears to me to be the next, necessary step is the development of a national database of embodied impact data, including embodied carbon and EPDs, to which trade associations and manufacturers can contribute. To try and introduce more certainty in the resulting studies, the data needs to based on the TC 350 European Standard, EN 15804, which needs to be behind any national regulation in this area. This, coupled with the increasing number of BIM compatible LCA and embodied carbon tools such as Tally(R), means that calculating embodied carbon becomes easy, and ensures we will start to minimise it as a matter of course.

About constructionlca

Co-author Green Guide to Specification, expert in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), EPDs and sustainability for the construction materials sector Researching Building LCA and how we can increase uptake at the Open University. Tweets as @constructionlca
This entry was posted in Embodied Carbon Week 2014, Embodied Impacts, EN 15804, Environmental Product Declarations, EPD, LCA, Life cycle assessment, Standards, TC 350, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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