News Brief

Embodied Carbon Infiltrates Green Building Programs

Two-thirds of green certifications and regulations address carbon emissions from building materials—a number that has doubled over the past five years.

The built environment is a major contributor to climate change, and the source of many cost-effective solutions. After operating energy use, embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure looms large as an important challenge. As BuildingGreen’s recent Spotlight Report The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It explains, this challenge is also a big opportunity.

In response, more and more voluntary incentive programs and regulations are including measures to address embodied carbon, according to The Embodied Carbon Review, a comprehensive study produced by Finland-based Bionova Ltd. (producer of One Click LCA software). As the report points out, however, each of these programs is implementing its own measures in parallel, without much cross pollination or sharing of best practices. The Embodied Carbon Review aims to fix that by rating the effectiveness of different approaches and showcasing the best overall implementations.

As of late 2018, according to the report, embodied carbon was addressed in 108 voluntary certifications, 22 regulations, 19 standards, and 7 guidelines for buildings and infrastructure. The lion’s share of these are in Europe, but some are in Asia, the Americas, and elsewhere.

This illustration from The Embodied Carbon Review estimated embodied carbon reduction potential of different methods within the certifications and regulations.

Image: Bionova Ltd

These programs use one or more of five different methodologies to address embodied carbon, ranging from entry level—just reporting embodied carbon—to advanced—full decarbonization (using a combination of carbon reduction and offsets). In between these extremes are three other options:

  1. comparing design options for embodied carbon (as in LEED v4’s Whole Building LCA credit)
  2. scoring the carbon performance of a project, and
  3. setting a cap on allowable embodied carbon levels.

There are also a range of incentives for undertaking these carbon-reduction measures. At the low end of this range is earning points in a voluntary rating system. More effective incentives include making them a condition of receiving funding or a density bonus, or simply mandating them, as the Netherlands and some European cities are doing.

The Embodied Carbon Review is not merely a snapshot of current practice; the authors have promised to keep updating their findings as new systems adopt embodied carbon reduction measures and the results of these measures are better understood. Download the report at www.embodiedcarbonreview.com and stay tuned to that station to stay informed.

More on embodied carbon

The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It

Embodied Carbon on a Roll

California Law Uses Environmental Product Declarations to Drive Low-Carbon Procurement

Published January 7, 2019

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