In the ongoing discussion surrounding sustainability and the challenges of climate change, the focus has mainly revolved around reducing operational carbon emissions – the emissions generated once a building is in use. However, as the urgency to combat climate change heightens, an important yet often overlooked aspect of carbon emissions has emerged: embodied carbon.  

What is Embodied Carbon and why does it matter?

Embodied carbon is the carbon equivalent emissions arising from activities and processes humans utilise to create, maintain and dispose of materials and objects.

For the built environment, embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with the production and installation of building materials, the materials, energy and water use during operational and the end-of-life scenario for all materials and components included within the scope of that particular construction project.

Carbon is mostly generated from the industrial and fuel burning processes that are required to engineer and install the material, keep the building operating and transport.

Embodied carbon is an underestimated but important factor when considering construction projects. Only recently has there been a concerted effort to accurately measure the embodied carbon of buildings and retrofits. By limiting the embodied carbon of your project you are reducing your companies contribution to anthropogenic climate change by limiting the carbon cost of the project.

Where does embodied carbon hide within buildings?

Steel and concrete are usually the largest sources of carbon in industrial shed buildings. Both do have carbon reducing options that can help mitigate their contribution, such as incorporating recycled components and local sourcing. Carbon intensive materials also include the insulation and most other highly processed materials.

How do we measure it?

Embodied carbon is measured in kg of CO2 equivalent per unit (area or mass of material), the reason why we use CO2 equivalent is because CO2 is not the only green house gas effecting climate change, and it is also not the only pollutant produced through human activity. Different green house gases generate warming to different degrees, however it is easiest to standardise them in line with the affect CO2 impacts on the environment. An example of this is methane, which has an effect 120 times greater than CO2, so 1 kg of methane is 120 kg CO2e.

How can it be included in refurbishment planning?

Embodied carbon is relevant to any activity that involves anything being processed, created, transformed, moved or installed by humans. If the refurbishment project requires new materials, components or building services installed, there is a carbon cost. Moving your sofa to the other side of the room does not necessarily generate embodied carbon, but painting your wall does. How much carbon was generated producing the paint from the raw materials, where was it produced and how far away from the factory was the shop you picked it up from, how did the paint get there, how far did you travel in your car to get to the DIY shop? All these activities created carbon to some degree and would contribute to the embodied carbon of your living room liven-up.

How our clients (and the environment) benefit from BE Designs expertise in this area.

Using EPDs (environmental product declarations) we are able to provide our clients with accurately estimated embodied carbon value, we achieve this using One Click LCA and can provide a range of services, through design assessments right through to as-built calculations. A design stage assessment can allow clients to select the most sustainable and carbon friendly design, materials and options when designing their buildings. This is particularly handy if their company has embodied carbon benchmarks, which a lot of developers are starting to have, as they can made educated designs and ensure they meet their requirements. As-built assessments can allow clients to confidently report that their targets have been met, or retrospectively assess designs and materials. It also provides piece of information that can be reported back to share holders and their own clients that demonstrates their commitment to limiting climate change.

Lifecycle assessments are also required in a number of building sustainability assessments such as in BREEAM, LEED and in order for new constructions to align with EU Taxonomy’s definition of climate change mitigation.

BE Design is currently working with Harworth Group to meet their ambitious decarbonisation targets. At their Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) development a number of their buildings have already had design stage life-cycle assessments and we are starting to provide as-built data, in order to meet their goals.

Why is it important for your company to consider embodied carbon?

By effectively managing it, you’re not simply erecting buildings; you’re laying the foundation for a sustainable future. Partnering with BE Design means more than just building structures; it’s about shaping a greener tomorrow.  


Contact us to discuss your project or vision. 
+44 (0)1636 850500 or admin@bedesign-group.com

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