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It is critical is to measure the carbon footprint of early design options

Embodied Carbon Week will help boost the industry’s expertise in emissions reduction, says Kristian Steele

Until recently, embodied carbon was a marginal topic, the domain of a few niche practitioners. At Arup we now see initiatives gathering pace across the industry. The subject has caught the interest of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), WRAP and a group of developers who are collectively behind Embodied Carbon Week, which takes place at various locations from 7-11 April. More than 15 seminars will highlight various aspects of embodied carbon and different approaches to life-cycle analysis.

Among the seminars on offer, the UKGBC will host a masterclass on measuring embodied carbon and WRAP will launch a new Embodied Carbon Database. One key objective of the week is to discuss the viability of agreeing common metrics for measuring embodied carbon and avoiding duplication of similar initiatives across the industry. So has embodied carbon finally entered the mainstream?

Last year Arup led the development of a low carbon route map for the UK built environment for the Green Construction Board. For the first time this workstream included embodied carbon alongside the operational carbon emissions we are familiar with. The aim of the route map was to quantify and understand what it means for our industry to deliver an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (against a 1990 baseline). The work found that embodied carbon will increase over the period due to ever more demand for materials and resources and will represent about 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emission across construction by 2050. This is in stark contrast to the anticipated huge reductions in operational emissions.

Embodied carbon warrants greater attention during the design process because it focuses on emissions that occur today. And it isn’t that complicated. We already have the basic tools, data and guidance to measure it. It’s a matter of carefully analysing all of the materials in a building, how they are made, and where they come from. What is most critical is to measure the carbon footprint of early design options, so that alternatives can be explored and informed decisions can be made at the right point in the design process. Embodied carbon needs to be in the mix of design priorities early. As specifiers, architects can play an instrumental role in reducing the embodied carbon of buildings. Over time, we will develop greater granularity in assessments, comparability and understanding of what it means for designers.

By examining the benefits and impacts of different material choices in the context of wider project objectives, materials selection can be made through dialogue with the supply chain to deliver the low carbon outcomes desired. This requires the involvement of the full industrial value chain - investors and clients who define the building brief, designers who respond, and the suppliers who provide the material solutions we use. Each has a role to play if we are to deliver low embodied carbon buildings.

The thrust of many of the seminars will be to achieve deeper understanding of how to measure embodied carbon on a project, with tips on how to do this. Arup will host a Pecha Kucha event with participants representing the full construction life cycle. Other seminar hosts include developers, clients, academics, and designers. Participating architects include Architype, Simon Sturgis, David Walker Architects and 5 Plus Architects. The launch of the WRAP/UKGBC Embodied Carbon Database will be a key event of the week. It is only by benchmarking outcomes that we can reduce impacts. This open webbased tool allows design teams to input project data and benchmark it against similar building types.
Kristian Steele is a senior consultant and materials specialist at Arup. To book places at Embodied Carbon Week seminars, go to: www.ukgbc.org/ content/calendar-events-embodied-carbon-week

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