It is becoming easier to track the carbon footprint of building materials through a range of new initiatives. This includes a new cloud-based tool backed by a group of high-profile companies and NGO’s, which is making that information free and available to everyone. Research funded by the Construction Climate Challenge, an initiative hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment, shows that the industry can go even further by integrating tools with new ways of working.
A new free, cloud-based, open-access tool is available to let you calculate the embodied carbon in a building project. The newly launched Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) which is geared for primarily North American projects, is one of a number of tools that are emerging to allow builders and architects to easily compare potential building materials in order to make informed, sustainable choices and to cut CO2 emissions.
It includes a database with over 16,000 construction materials, including everything from concrete, steel, wood to gypsum and tiles is based on a digitized list of US and Canadian Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). It also includes methods to create transparency and achievable targets.
Backed by major industry leaders
The EC3 project was initiated by building company Skanska, C Change Labs, a software developer, and developed by an alliance of companies and non-profits as well as a number of non-profits including the Carbon Leadership Forum. All in all, nearly 50 other industry-leaders have joined in.
“We have only a short time to actionably reduce carbon emissions as a society,” said Skanska USA chief sustainability officer Beth Heider. “With our benchmarking and the EC3 tool, we more fully understand the emissions footprint of how and what we build — and can chart an urgent course toward its reduction.”
Until now, information on embodied carbon has been very difficult to track and compare. Information was often kept in file formats that which are difficult to navigate, hard to track down, and often incomplete.
The EC3 is now in public beta testing and accessible for free following registration at the Building Transparency website. During its initial pilot phase, participating development projects realized embodied carbon reductions of up to 30%, without additional financial impact – in most cases the changes realized through the tool are cost neutral.
The Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool
Buildings are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions globally. Embodied carbon emissions come from the manufacture, transport and installation of construction materials. Other emissions are operational and relate to the building when it is in use.
The ongoing work to develop better tools for comparing the carbon footprints of materials and construction methods has the potential to drive demand for low-carbon solutions and construction materials and to incentivize manufacturers and suppliers to invest in and develop low-carbon solutions.
Another tool to calculate embodied carbon is the Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool (CITT), which has been developed within the CITT research project. The research activities have been pursued in collaboration between the Centre for Business and Climate Change at the University of Edinburgh Business School, and industry partner Costain, with input from software experts Enable My Team. The project was funded by the Construction Climate Challenge (CCC), an initiative hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment.
The tool is designed to help measure the embodied carbon emissions of infrastructure projects by integrating emission data with outputs from estimators, planners and BIM technicians. The project’s intention is to integrate contractors’ costing and planning processes and has been tested in several large-scale projects.
Research shows that focusing on embodied carbon, doesn’t generally come at the expense of the carbon footprint during the infrastructure’s operational phase, but there are exceptions
So, does the focus on embodied carbon come at the expense of carbon during the entire lifecycle? Findings from the Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool (CITT) research project have shown that focusing on lowering the climate impact during the ‘embodied’ building phase, had a net benefit over the asset’s lifetime in the most (3 out 4) of the cases looked at. In one case, researchers found that when changes were made to reduce the diameter of a train tunnel, the initial reduction in embodied emissions was offset by the increased energy demand on trains going through the tunnel – after 6-13 years, the ‘benefit’ of reduced embodied carbon was lost. A proposed solution to this problem is to combine the use of an embodied carbon calculator, with a set of ‘rules-of-thumb’ for determining when there is a risk for higher operational emissions.
Another aspect that was determined through the work with CITT is that limiting carbon doesn’t begin and end with a tool. The CITT research has showed that the organisations that succeeded in reducing emissions in their supply chains were the ones that demonstrated strong leadership in communicating with their suppliers, provided resources to help measure emissions and worked closely with their suppliers to reduce emissions.
Other tools complete the picture
For companies looking for alternatives, including whole life-cycle tools, options include The One Click LCA tool, developed by consulting company Bionova, which ensures life-cycle metrics calculations.