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New guide to reducing embodied carbon released

17th March 2023

Embodied carbon in new buildings could be halved with existing construction techniques, a new report claims.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and development consultancy Arup released the report Net-zero buildings: Halving construction emissions at MIPIM in Cannes, France this week, focused on reducing upfront embodied carbon in construction.

Embodied carbon comprises emissions released during the production and transportation of building materials as well as the construction process. The report states that as much as 50% of a new, energy-efficient building’s emissions come from embodied carbon. Arup and the WBCSD estimate that less than 1% of building projects currently calculate and report their full carbon footprint.

The report provides property developers with key strategies which the authors say can bring the changes required to meet the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions’ Race to Zero goals for the built environment industry to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

Key recommendations include:

  • Data is key and will drive informed calculation, analysis, and consistent reporting
  • Companies must quickly gain the confidence to treat carbon like money, setting clear budgetary targets
  • A systemic approach is required as there is no single solution; collaborative engagement of the entire value chain required 
  • Urgent and decisive action is essential

The report offers practical suggestions for building designers, owners, and construction firms to use these principles to reduce the carbon in buildings they are creating. For example, reducing the space between columns or supports on the floor of each building – as the engineering solutions required for large spans are typically carbon-intensive – or reducing building height to reduce the need for thicker core walls, bigger columns and larger foundations.

“This report shows that property developers, and their appointed teams, can achieve significant carbon reduction targets now. It is possible to at least halve embodied carbon emissions in construction by better using what is already available,” said Chris Carroll, building engineering director at Arup.

The full report can be found here.

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