September 30, 2016
Embodied Carbon of Buildings: International Policy Review.
The Athena Institute has been working for a long time to facilitate uptake of LCA in the construction sector. Our key activity is putting in place free, simplified measurement tools so that green decisions can easily be driven by data. We’re covering the technical part of the equation. What’s missing is a broad will to act by the construction sector.
Public policy might be the mechanism needed to motivate a next-generation, data-based approach to sustainable design. And given the world’s deep concerns about climate change, the carbon footprint component of LCA may be the hook.
We recently completed a study looking for embodied-carbon policy in the construction sector around the world – and we found a few examples in Europe. Our report also highlights potential lessons for North America.
There’s a clear trend in Europe showing recognition that materials have a lifetime carbon impact (making them, using them, disposing of them). Evidence is seen in multiple calls to action, white papers and recommendations by various stakeholders that address the idea of less consumption and less waste. We also notice a trend towards quantification of lifetime carbon footprint of materials, products and works of construction. This includes an appreciation that GHG emissions due to a nation’s population are not restricted to direct fossil fuel combustion within national borders.
We can help support policy that brings LCA to decisions about materials and about building design, or perhaps whether or not to even build at all. This kind of policy goes beyond incentives for environmental improvements at the manufacturing level (like carbon taxes), because it gets at behavioral changes at the consumer or specifier level.
The objective of the study was to capture the global state-of-the-art in existing and emerging policy that aims to reduce the embodied carbon footprint of new buildings. Embodied carbon is the greenhouse gas emissions related primarily to the use of materials (not to be confused with GHG emissions from building operation – there are countless policies worldwide addressing those). The study was not exhaustive; it’s a snapshot that highlights jurisdictions worth a closer look.
The Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Japan and Sweden are most notably moving down this policy path. In particular, the Netherlands is blazing a strong trail. In 2013 it became mandatory for residential buildings and most office buildings to report embodied GHGs before a building permit is issued. This regulation is supported with important underlying technology, such as unified and standardized LCA tools.
The Athena Institute thanks BCFII for supporting this research project.