Benefits and challenges of visualising embodied and whole life carbon of buildings

Pomponi, F. and Moncaster, A. (2016). Benefits and challenges of visualising embodied and whole life carbon of buildings. In: International Conference on Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design for Society, 14-15 Sep 2016, Leeds Beckett University, UK.


Embodied and whole life carbon of buildings are increasingly gaining attention. However, embodied carbon calculation is still far from being common practice for sustainability assessment of buildings. Some of its greatest difficulties lie with the long life lifespan of buildings which implies a great unpredictability of future scenarios and high uncertainty of data. To help understand which life cycle stages should get the most attention when considering a building project, this paper proposes a new visualisation method based on Sankey diagrams for whole life carbon that allows one to cluster the carbon emitted in each of the life cycle stages as identified in current BS 15978 standards. With the proposed method, the carbon figures can be further broken down to account for building assemblies and components. Additionally, the method is equally suitable to account for physical quantities of what is embedded in buildings and their components. As such it can supplement some units of existing assessment methods (e.g. metal depletion measured in mass units of Feeq) and turn it into mass units of embodied steel. With such new metric, a life cycle assessment would include knowledge on flows as well as quantities. Such information could then be linked to the building permanently and smartly to be updated when necessary as the building evolves, changes, and gets upgraded, building on the theoretical foundations of the shearing layers of buildings. As such, this information could be embedded within BIM which is fully suitable to store parametric details for each building component.

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