Implementing Whole Life Carbon in Buildings

De Wolf, Catherine; Pomponi, Francesco and Moncaster, Alice (2016). Implementing Whole Life Carbon in Buildings. In: Industrial Ecology and Green Transformation ISIE America 2016, 25-27 May 2016, Bogata, Colombia.


The current sustainability crisis reveals the need for expertise in life cycle design of the built environment. With recent innovations reducing the operational energy of buildings, the percentage of embodied energy has become a critical part of their whole life cycle (operational and embodied) impact. A lack of consensus and discrepancies in current assessment methods results in low credibility of whole life carbon calculations, preventing their global and extensive implementation. This research addresses the need for a uniform, mutually agreed upon and validated embodied carbon assessment methodology in buildings.
The opportunities of implementing whole life carbon in buildings are multiple. Next to the obvious environmental benefits of reducing embodied carbon, it will also give confidence in carbon assessment and boost the innovation of low-carbon technologies and materials. Also, it will be possible to quantify the carbon dioxide equivalent of existing building stock. Moreover, a low carbon approach can lower the financial costs of construction while helping to meet national and global carbon reduction targets. A uniform methodology will allow designers to integrate low carbon design in Building Information Models. Finally, validated certification schemes will add value and environmental prestige to new construction and building retrofits.
The embodied carbon of ten case studies is evaluated in collaboration with key stakeholders including industry partners from leading structural and architectural design firms, sustainability consultancy companies, contractors, developers, clients, material manufacturers, policy- and certification-makers. Then, discrepancies will be identified through a comparative study of these case studies. Finally, these inconsistencies will be addressed in discussion with stakeholders in order to formulate coherent whole life carbon assessment and design guidelines.
The future benefits are threefold: new guidelines for low-carbon buildings, a wide implementation of whole life carbon in the built environment, and recommendations for certification of low-carbon buildings. This research aims at developing an industry-wide whole life carbon calculation approach rather than a software tool or theoretical expansion of the whole life cycle theory. The practical implementation of the newly developed methodology will formulate the baseline for certification schemes and policies.

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