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Embodied Carbon vs. Operational Carbon: Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Buildings

When we think of the carbon footprint of buildings, we often focus on operational carbon, which is the carbon emissions that result from the daily use of a building. However, it is important to also consider embodied carbon, which is the carbon emissions associated with the materials and construction of the building. In this article, we will explore the difference between embodied carbon and operational carbon and how they impact the carbon footprint of buildings.


Image that says Decarbonise - In the UK, the built environment as a whole is responsible for 42% of national emissions..
Impact of the built environment on emissions in the UK

What is Embodied Carbon?


Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions that result from the manufacturing, transportation, and construction of building materials. This includes the carbon emissions associated with the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing of products, transportation of materials to the construction site, and the construction process itself.

The embodied carbon of a building is typically measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) per square metre of building floor area. Embodied carbon is considered a significant contributor to a building's carbon footprint, as it accounts for a large portion of the carbon emissions associated with a building's life cycle.


What is Operational Carbon?


Operational carbon refers to the carbon emissions that result from the daily use of a building, including heating, cooling, lighting, and the use of appliances. Operational carbon is typically measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) per square metre of building floor area per year.


Operational carbon is an important consideration when it comes to a building's carbon footprint, as it accounts for a significant portion of the building's carbon emissions over its lifetime. However, it is important to note that operational carbon can be reduced through energy-efficient building design and the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines.


Embodied Carbon vs. Operational Carbon: Which is More Important?


Both embodied carbon and operational carbon are important considerations when it comes to the carbon footprint of buildings. While operational carbon can be reduced through energy-efficient building design and the use of renewable energy sources, embodied carbon is a more challenging issue to address.


Reducing the embodied carbon of a building requires a focus on sustainable materials, such as those made from recycled content or renewable resources, and reducing the carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing and transportation of materials. In addition, construction practices can also play a role in reducing embodied carbon, such as through the use of modular construction and off-site manufacturing.


Image describing Urban R+D's sustainability strategies for small site property development that include Off-site / Prefab / Modular, Timber Frame / CLT, Stone / Hempcrete, Passivhaus, Reuse / Refurb / Retrofit as well as quality standards the company will aim to meet such as BREEAM and housing space standards.
Urban R+D sustainability strategies for small site property development

Conclusion


Embodied carbon and operational carbon are both important considerations when it comes to the carbon footprint of buildings. While operational carbon can be reduced through energy-efficient building design and the use of renewable energy sources, embodied carbon is a more challenging issue to address. By focusing on sustainable materials and construction practices, the embodied carbon of buildings can be reduced, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly building industry. As we move towards a more sustainable future, understanding the impact of both embodied and operational carbon is essential for creating a more sustainable and low-carbon built environment.


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