UK Green Building Council encourages firms to tackle embodied carbon

The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) has offered new guidance for construction and building firms on how to decarbonise their operations and supply chains further, through effective embodied carbon measurement.

UK-GBC wants to decarbonise the built environment and although steps have been taken to reduce emissions and embrace the circular economy, the Council feels that embodied carbon needs to be pushed into the “mainstream”.

The Council published guidance on Tuesday (7 March) for clients to commission embodied carbon measurements, covering briefing terminology to stipulate requirements for the carbon measurement and advice on how to use the outcomes of the assessment.

“UK-GBC’s vision is of a built environment that is fully decarbonised,” the Council’s chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said. “This has to include both embodied and operational carbon. As operational carbon reduces, the relative significance of embodied carbon increases. So, we will continue to advocate for embodied carbon to become a mainstream issue in building design, construction and maintenance.

“Indeed, we will be encouraging our client members and other clients in the industry to create their own embodied carbon briefs by making effective use of this guidance. Also, through our work with cities and other local and national authorities, we will be encouraging the assessment of embodied carbon within the public-sector planning and procurement process.”

Embodied carbon refers to the emissions that occur during the manufacturing, transport and construction of building materials and also accounts for end-of-life emissions. UK-GBC hopes the guidance will encourage businesses to create briefs and outlines to reduce embodied carbon across their value chains and implore others to act on sustainability requirements.

Guidance was produced in consultation with UK-GBC members such as BRE, Carillion, Derwent London and Walsh. Carillion has already netted £33m in additional profits from sustainability actions, and the company’s chief sustainability officer David Picton believes that embedded carbon should be “inextricably linked” with operational efforts to reduce emissions.

“Measuring, tackling and reducing Embodied Carbon is the hidden prize in shaping a better built environment – as an integrated services and construction company we hope this guidance will drive clients, designers, contractors and suppliers to work side by side to develop and maintain infrastructure with the lowest possible carbon content,” Picton said. 

Full embodied workout

Structural engineering firm Walsh has already invested significant amounts into researching and developing an independent embodied carbon assessment tool. The company found that around 20% of embodied carbon can reduced through effective practices and could potentially reach 60% savings through greater client involvement.

The UK-GBC is eager to set the precedent for embodied carbon awareness and reduction. The Council’s central London headquarters has achieved the lowest embodied carbon footprint ever recorded for a UK office refurbishment.

Led by London-based architects Barr Gazetas, the refurbishment project resulted in a 139kgCO2/m2 embodied carbon footprint at UK-GBC’s 162m2 office floorspace – 22% below a comparable “standard” fit-out.

Matt Mace

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