Reducing embodied carbon in the construction sector

Danielle Gillespie, Stephen McIlwaine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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The increasing drive towards net zero carbon has thrown a spotlight on 'embodied carbon' in the construction industry. Embodied carbon refers to the whole life carbon emissions associated with the materials used in buildings, and includes emissions arising from the resource extraction, material production, transport, installation, maintenance and end of life disposal. In the UK, embodied carbon associated with new construction accounts for 20% of annual carbon emissions from buildings. Reducing this is key to meeting the UK's commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. In this study, recent academic and industry literature on embodied carbon is examined, and interviews are held with nine industry professionals with specialist knowledge on embodied carbon. The findings show that against a background of increasing
academic research and industry knowledge on the topic, there remains a lack of clarity over the guidance and methodology used to calculate embodied carbon. There is no comprehensive materials database for embodied carbon and no one calculation tool or approach used by the construction industry. A more coherent and agreed approach is needed if industry is to effectively reduce embodied carbon in new build
construction and refurbishment. The UK has no clear legislative requirements or
policy framework on the topic. Legislation is urgently needed to drive and incentivise
embodied carbon requirements throughout the industry. Since most of the embodied carbon emissions of materials occurs before the construction phase, the focus must be on understanding the implications of material choices with a preference for material reuse where possible.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 37th Annual ARCOM Conference
PublisherAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management
Publication statusPublished - 07 Sep 2021


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