Tackling embodied carbon is the next step of the green building journey

(Eco Business, 7 Jan 2020) Without considering the upfront emissions from construction, the world could burn through its remaining carbon budget as the global population swells. Eco-Business asks Lisa Bate, chair of the World Green Building Council, for her thoughts on how to address the problem of embodied carbon.

As much as 30 per cent of a building’s total carbon emissions is impossible to ever reduce or recoup—unless developers are willing to address them before construction even begins.

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions released during the manufacturing, transportation, and construction phases of a building, before it goes into use. These emissions, seldom considered by occupants, make up 30 per cent of a building’s carbon emissions and 11 per cent of all carbon emissions globally.

And, between now and 2050, embodied carbon will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction, threatening to consume a large part of remaining carbon budget, according to the findings of a recent report by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront.

Embodied carbon came under the spotlight recently when WorldGBC updated its Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment to include the following milestones: by 2030, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have at least 40 per cent less embodied carbon, and by 2050, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have net zero embodied carbon.

Eco-Business asked WorldGBC chair Lisa Bate, the Toronto-based global sustainability lead for international firm B+H Architects, why the global non-profit is now focusing on embodied carbon and what it means for the industry’s ambitions to reach net zero carbon.

The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Eco Business, 7 Jan 2020: Tackling embodied carbon is the next step of the green building journey