Energy-efficient buildings are optimum—but these days, it’s energy-efficient buildings with low or no carbon emissions that are truly ideal.

This is because buildings produce 74% of electricity consumption and a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Beyond concerns regarding a building’s energy consumption, the building industry will need to consider all of the energy that goes into the structure’s creation—from the harvesting and manufacture of building materials to the energy used in building and in the demolition and disposal of building materials when the building comes down.

This footprint, called embodied carbon, is estimated to account for 11% of global carbon emissions and 75% of a building’s emissions over its entire lifecycle. For the building industry, lessening embodied carbon is the next major obstacle.

This is the message of a new campaign intended to list embodied carbon on the agenda of lawmakers and to place an upper limit on the amount of embodied carbon a building can possess. The campaign is a project of the Architects Climate Action Network, a grassroots industry organisation started by some designers in 2019 that now features more than 1,000 supporters in the U.K.

Embodied carbon emissions can constitute up to 75% of a structure’s total emissions across its lifetime, said ACAN’s Joe Giddings. He states the total embodied carbon emissions associated with new structures and infrastructure in the U.K. equals 50 million tons of CO2, or more than 10% of national emissions. A total of 149 countries boast a national carbon footprint smaller than that produced by the U.K. construction sector.

The nonprofit group Architecture 2030 asserts that new building projects generate more than 3.7 billion metric tons of embodied carbon emissions annually, the equal of the yearly emissions from 950 coal-fired power plants.

The construction business has hesitated to change the manner in which it works and to shift the way they build, paired with continual revelations from climate scientists about the severity of the climate emergency, Giddings says.

ACAN’s campaign summons the U.K. parliament to change its building and planning regulations to mandate whole lifecycle carbon assessments for building projects and to impose an upper limit on the amount of embodied carbon a project can hold. The campaign is collecting signatures and querying concerned architects, designers, and builders, and the public, to send emails to elected officials demanding changes in policy. Though the campaign is based in the U.K., its objectives would apply to the US, another embodied carbon contributor.

The fledgling group has utilised this approach to great effect in the past. In 2020, ACAN summoned its supporters to challenge proposed policy changes that would lessen energy efficiency requirements in buildings, producing more than 3,000 responses arguing against the plans. Giddings said this inspired shifts in the proposed policy. These responses in turn get responses from the government.

The group also demands change in the architecture business. They guided a campaign against architecture companies tackling airport projects with large carbon footprints while claiming to focus on sustainability—an effort that climaxed in hundreds of paper airplanes being sent to the office of Foster and Partners, one of the U.K.’s largest architecture companies and a major airport designer. This move was a surefire conversation starter.

The embodied carbon campaign is based in research, with a detailed report regarding embodied carbon and construction intended to put into action specific policy changes.

Precedents for this plan include The Netherlands policy which requires an assessment of the environmental impact of materials utilised in most buildings. And France will implement a new policy in 2021 that will call upon developers to measure and report embodied carbon emissions to get building permits, with the objective of setting limits on embodied carbon in new buildings. In the US, California put in place a new policy in 2020 that necessitates embodied carbon declarations for some building materials used in state construction projects.

Australia is bound to follow suit—leading ultimately to major changes in the building industry.

 

Source: Fast Company.Com