As leaders around the world struggle with the issue of climate change, it becomes more and more apparent that Australia needs to adopt a cohesive, comprehensive plan and policy to deal with this issue here at home.

The concept of embodied energy comes in handy here, the value of energy consumed through building production processes, from the mining and processing of natural resources to materials manufacturing and transport. The standing front-end component of a building’s lifecycle impact.

Five to seven percent of CO2 emissions is caused by cement production alone, with iron and steel production accounting for 11 percent. And more than five percent of global electric generation goes toward aluminium production.

Australia’s Green Star points system supports the concept of sustainability by granting incentives to building owners who market the operational performance of commercial buildings. And in the opinion of many, not enough points are being awarded in the category of construction materials choice. The Design as Built category of the program’s assessment scorecard does not provide sufficient motivation toward the mass purchase of sustainable materials. And it does not address the true possible impact of CO2. Structural steel and timber products earn the same number of points on this scale—with each garnering a maximum of 1 percent of the total score.

It’s amazing to consider, but the potential impact of after-construction operation on life-cycle carbon of fossil fuel-based buildings is significant—and embodied impacts equal up to 22 percent of a building’s complete impact. They can in fact contribute up to 60 percent of life cycle impacts, as their energy efficiency expands.

Some studies, in fact, show that a timber framed floor system can mean a 75 percent reduction of embodied energy.

In order to truly and fully go green, we must acknowledge potential impacts of materials used in building projects. And relevant laws must address the whole life of a building—and, for that matter, of our planet.

While green roofs and solar panels do help, a solid timber foundation would limit carbon dioxide creation as the result of concrete and steel production, and also ensures carbon storage for the life of the building. A timber frame home stores 28 tons of carbon dioxide.

By paying more heed to embodied impacts, we get a better sense of environmental impact on the globe as a whole.