What is embodied carbon?

Embodied carbon is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) or greenhouse gas emissions released during the entire lifecycle of a building.

In a nutshell: 

  • Embodied carbon is the amount of carbon dioxide released during the lifecycle of a building
  • Materials, transport, manufacture, construction, ongoing use, maintenance and demolition all contribute to the embodied carbon total
  • Façade companies have an important role in reducing embodied carbon in construction
  • Material choice is important but façade companies can also help reduce embodied carbon through pre-construction services and value engineering
  • Material optimisation, efficient installation methods and façade replacement strategies also play their part

It includes raw material extraction, transportation, manufacture of components, construction, ongoing use, maintenance and, ultimately, demolition. Everything... from the beginning of a building’s life to the end.

Embodied carbon is different from operational carbon, which comes from the energy used to heat, light and ‘operate’ a building. Architectural façades, brise soleil and rainscreen cladding can reduce operational carbon emissions. But architects and engineers also need to consider the embodied carbon of such systems.

Why? Because with all the focus on reducing operational carbon, the scale of embodied carbon is sometimes ignored. That’s bad news, because embodied carbon is fast becoming the largest part of a building’s overall carbon footprint.

For example, cement production accounts for around 7% of the world’s total CO2 emissions, and is the largest contributor to embodied carbon in the built environment.

Understanding embodied carbon in the façade industry

When looking at materials for architectural façades, brise soleil, rainscreen cladding and louvres, it’s important to know that recycled aluminium has six to seven times less embodied carbon than ‘virgin’ aluminium, and that timber takes less energy to produce than you might think.

However, it is not just a question of material choice. Façade companies can help reduce embodied carbon through pre-construction services and value engineering, and by introducing more efficient installation methods.

Façade companies can also reduce waste by getting the most from standard material sizes, and make ongoing maintenance and repair more efficient with smarter façade replacement strategies.

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