Reducing embodied impacts of buildings – insights from a social power analysis of the UK and Sweden

Moncaster, A. M. and Malmqvist, T. (2020). Reducing embodied impacts of buildings – insights from a social power analysis of the UK and Sweden. In: IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, IOP Publishing, 588, article no. 032047.



With one of the highest carbon footprints, the construction sector should be at the forefront of climate action. Reducing embodied impacts of construction also means ensuring that buildings are durable, low maintenance, and fit for purpose, while maximizing resource efficiency. However, thirty years in to research in this field, embodied impacts continue to be ignored in the majority of building projects. This paper traces the recent history of embodied impact assessment within industry best practice in two contrasting countries, the UK and Sweden. Our data is drawn both from personal involvement in a number of projects and from qualitative case studies of the development of low embodied impact buildings. Through these we consider what has historically held progress back, what the new drivers are in both countries, and what the remaining barriers (both overt and hidden) might be. By applying social power theories we identify deep and complex reasons for the lack of traction, including in policy formation and professional practices. The insights provided help to explain the slow progress so far, as well as to support increased reduction of emissions across the building sector, and thus enable progress towards achieving several key Sustainable Development Goals.

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