Q1. What is embodied carbon and how can we reduce it?

What is embodied carbon?

Embodied carbon is the total carbon emissions as a result of the construction of a building, including in the mining, transportation and processing of the building materials, the assembly of the building and on-site construction activities.

Why is it relevant in my article series?

In these articles, I am exploring how architects can contribute to the response to the climate crisis. Carbon emissions are a global challenge and understanding the embodied carbon of buildings is a significant part of the overall picture.

How relevant is it in architecture in general?

A building’s overall embodied carbon is impacted by the choice of materials and processes used in its construction.

Architects are fundamental in making these choices as part of the design process, and having a knowledge of embodied carbon is important for moving towards more sustainable buildings.

What could be done to reduce embodied carbon?

The manufacture of materials such as steel, concrete, aluminum, and glass for use in building construction contribute significantly to global carbon dioxide emissions. By selecting construction materials that require less energy-intensive manufacturing process, or raw materials that require less intensive mining processes we can reduce the embodied carbon of a building. Transport distances can also have an impact on the embodied carbon of a material when considering where materials need to be sourced from.

What can you do?

Engage with activism and petitions that challenge the current industry, for example ACAN, is campaigning to introduce embodied carbon legislation in the U.K. that would allow the planning process and building regulations to assess, report and reduce embodied carbon emissions of construction projects.

This legislation would bring a much higher level of environmental accountability to projects, which is currently too easily ignored.

- Maria Henshall