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What is Embodied Carbon? overview and Why is it Important?

Embodied Carbon;Traditionally, sustainable design has focused mainly on operational efficiency, which refers to energy usage

By Ground Report
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What is Embodied Carbon? overview and Why is it Important?

Traditionally, sustainable design has focused mainly on operational efficiency, which refers to energy usage after a space is occupied.

However, as the emphasis on reducing carbon emissions grows, sustainable design has expanded to include embodied carbon - the carbon footprint associated with building materials.

The 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction Sector by UNEP reveals that the building sector contributes to 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, with 11% directly resulting from the embodied emissions of new construction.

The impact of embodied carbon on a building's carbon footprint is significant, and understanding the difference between embodied and operational carbon can assist architects and designers in developing more sustainable, carbon-neutral designs.

What is Embodied Carbon?

Embodied carbon, also known as embedded carbon or upfront carbon emissions, refers to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation, installation, and disposal of building materials and products throughout their entire life cycle.

Embodied carbon is becoming an increasingly important factor in building design and construction as the industry seeks to reduce its carbon footprint and address climate change.

Overview of Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases that are released during the production, transportation, and disposal of building materials and products.

These emissions are often referred to as "upfront" or "embedded" because they occur before the building is even operational. Embodied carbon is distinct from "operational carbon," which refers to the emissions associated with a building's energy use during its lifetime.

Embodied carbon is becoming an important issue in building design and construction because it accounts for a significant portion of a building's overall carbon footprint.

According to some estimates, embodied carbon can account for up to 50% of a building's lifetime carbon emissions.

Why is it important?

It's crucial to consider embodied carbon because reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vital for the future of our planet. Currently, measuring it for net-zero builds isn't common practice as the focus tends to be on operational carbon, which only considers the building's energy usage once occupied. This is a significant oversight.

It is important because it is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. When we think of carbon emissions from buildings, we often focus on operational carbon, which refers to the energy consumption of a building during its use.

Moreover, It is essential to consider because it's an inherent part of a building's carbon footprint.

When designers and architects prioritize reducing embodied carbon, they can ensure that their projects are more sustainable and carbon-neutral.

This is critical as the construction industry continues to grow, and demand for construction materials increases, resulting in a corresponding increase in emissions.

Therefore, reducing embodied carbon is an essential part of addressing climate change and creating a more sustainable future.


There are many examples of building materials

  • Concrete: Concrete is one of the most commonly used building materials, but it is also one of the most carbon-intensive. The production of cement, which is the key ingredient in concrete, accounts for approximately 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Steel: Steel is another commonly used building material that has a high level of embodied carbon. The production of steel requires significant amounts of energy and emits large amounts of CO2.
  • Glass: Glass is often used in building facades and windows, but the production of glass also has a high level of embodied. The process of melting and shaping glass requires large amounts of energy, and the use of certain chemicals in the production process can also contribute to emissions.
  • Insulation: Insulation is used to reduce a building's energy use and carbon emissions, but some types of insulation have a high level of embodied. For example, foam insulation is made from petrochemicals and has a high level of embodied.
  • Timber: Timber is often promoted as a sustainable building material because it is renewable and has a lower level of embodied carbon than materials like concrete and steel. However, the sourcing and processing of timber can also contribute to embodied carbon emissions.


Reducing it is a key challenge for the building industry as it seeks to address climate change.

  • Material selection: Choosing building materials and products with lower levels of embodied carbon can be an effective way to reduce emissions.
  • Design optimization: Optimizing the design of a building can also help to reduce embodied carbon. This can include using less material, reducing waste, and choosing materials that can be easily recycled or reused.
  • Carbon offsetting: Carbon offsetting involves investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as renewable energy or reforestation projects.
  • Carbon accounting: Carbon accounting involves measuring and tracking the emissions associated with a building's entire life cycle. This can help to identify areas where emissions can be reduced and ensure that emissions are accurately accounted for.

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