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ARCHIFYNOW > TIPS & IDEAS > Embodied Carbon in the Fight Against Global Warming

Embodied Carbon in the Fight Against Global Warming


Global warming is the greatest challenge facing humanity today. From rising ocean temperatures that threaten ecosystems to extreme weather events that increase the risk of fires and flooding, the devastating effects of global warming will increase without an immediate and effective response.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced a special report in 2018 stating that in order to limit global warming, global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

The built environment is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector of the world economy. According to the World Green Building Council, building and construction is responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions in the world. If the world is to be able to achieve the set climate goal of net zero by 2050, emissions from the construction sector must be drastically reduced.

Embodied Carbon has slipped under the radar when it comes to building sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. Operational carbon has been center stage for the past several decades, however it’s now time to refocus the spotlight onto embodied carbon emissions.

What is embodied Carbon?

When we consider embodied carbon in regards to the construction industry, we are referring to the total carbon emissions released throughout the entire life-cycle of a building.

This includes:

• Manufacturing of materials

• Transport

• Construction

• Operation

• Maintenance & Repair

• Decommission/Disposal

Embodied Carbon in the Fight Against Global Warming

How can you limit Embodied Carbon Emissions?

Carefully select building materials

A buildings overall embodied carbon is inextricably linked to the composition of the products from which it is built. As such, material selection is vital if you want to limit embodied carbon emissions.

Some things to consider when selecting materials:

• Choose recycled materials where possible.

• Limit carbon intensive materials such as concrete, steel, aluminium, foam insulation, carpet, gypsum board.

• Choose lower carbon alternatives such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Bamboo, Cork, Hemp Insulation, HempCrete, Mycelium, Bark Siding.

• Choose carbon sequestering materials such as wood, straw and hemp.

• Use fewer finish materials.

• Prioritise locally produced materials with shorter transport length to site.

• Consider the durability and lifecycle of the materials.

• Consider the disassembly and recyclability of materials.

Minimise Waste

Did you know, as much as 30% of all building materials delivered to a typical construction site end up as waste!

Some simple strategies to minimise construction waste are to design in common sizes or consider modular or prefabricated design principles.

Design for longevity, repurpose and adaptability

Did you know, in 2017, the Australian construction industry alone generated 20.4 million tons of waste!

Design for longevity, durability and adaptability to avoid your building contributing to the millions of tonnes of construction waste in Australia.

Offset residual embodied carbon emissions

You can offset any residual embodied carbon emissions through verified offset schemes to establish your building as Carbon Neutral.

To combat global warming and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we need to to review and adjust the way we think, design and build. Simply focusing on the operational emissions of a building is no longer sufficient. We need to consider the entire lifecycle of a building and it's embodied carbon. 

Breanne Iredell
Breanne Iredell is the Content Developer for Archify. She coordinates the content creation and publishing on Archify and Archify Now as well as the development of online CPD presentations and education materials. Breanne holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Western Australia.
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