What is embodied carbon?
Upfront embodied carbon refers to the emissions associated with all the activities of procuring, mining, harvesting raw materials, transforming these materials into construction products, transporting them to site and incorporating them into a building, and subsequently maintaining, replacing and removing and disposing at the end of their life.
Why does this matter?
Eleven percent of global emissions are associated with upfront embodied CO₂ emissions from new construction.
With the introduction of the revised Nearly Zero Energy standard through Part L of the Building in regulations in 2019 for both residential and non-residential buildings, the upfront embodied carbon now represents a much greater part of the whole life cycle carbon of the building, in some cases up to 50% This means that from now on the upfront embodied carbon is now as important to calculate for new buildings as the operational carbon.
What standards are relevant to calculation of embodied carbon?
There are a number of standards relevant to the calculation of the embodied carbon and other impacts of buildings. EN15978 sets out how the full life cycle carbon and other environmental impacts should be calculated setting out the modules relevant to each part of the building lifecycle.
Are embodied carbon emissions of buildings in Ireland regulated?
There are currently no definitive plans in Ireland for regulations but there are a number of positive indicators that this is likely to happen over the next five years. Holland and France have already introduced regulations, with Finland introducing regulations in 2025 and other countries likely to follow.
Changes to the EU Construction Products Directive will likely see a requirement for use of ecological footprinting of products through either EPD or Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) The EU commission has introduced the Level(s) framework.
So what is driving interest in embodied carbon calculation at the moment?
Ireland’s national certification scheme for homes – Home Performance Index awards credits for embodied carbon calculation and LCA. The international certification schemes for non residential buildings LEED and BREEAM also award credits for the calculation of Life Cycle Assessment and embodied carbon. This is driving interest amongst professionals in calculation.
However there is also an increasing interest from the investment community in embodied carbon and this is likely to grow over the coming years.
What tools are available to use?
There are a number of tools that can used to calculate embodied carbon such as One Click LCA. This is a proprietry cloud based tool with an annual licence fee. However they have recently made a free version One Click LCA Planetary. This provides data for the most of the high impact products used in construction and contains all of the data from IGBC’s EPD Ireland programme.
What data can I use for Ireland?
IGBC has developed the EPD Ireland programme to allow Irish manufacturers to publish verified Environmental Product Declarations (EPD). These provide the data on Global Warming potential and other environmental impacts used in the calculations. For more information www.epdireland.org. Virtually all insulation manufacturers in Ireland have now developed EPD with some gaps in other materials such as cement. You can help encourage these sectors to produce verified data by signing up to the EPD commitment.
There is as yet no generic data agreed for use in Ireland however there are various sources of data that can be used both open source and proprietary. Generic data is used where there is no verified manufacturer data for a product.
IGBC is currently working on recommendations on use of generic data for use in Ireland through the LifeLevel(s) project.
Where can I get training?
IGBC or its partners such as OneClick LCA provides training on use calculation of embodied carbon and LCA.
If you want to learn how to quantify the carbon emmissions associated with your building designs, register for IGBC’s “Whole Life Carbon” Training on our events and education page.
See learning hub for online videos.