Halting and then reversing global man-made temperature rise is the big challenge of our time.
Having worked in and around the area of sustainability in the built environment for nigh-on 25 years, I’m confident that it can be done and there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. But there is no time to lose. Every opportunity for carbon emissions reduction needs to be grasped and every policy lever that can be pulled should be pulled.
Currently, around 50% of carbon emissions from new build housing is caused by the building materials, the build process, maintenance and end of life – known as the Embodied Carbon emissions. These carbon emissions currently fall largely outside the scope of current regulation, although we do hope and expect regulations to be introduced over the coming months and years.
In any case, my experience of working with Welsh social housing clients, architects and the wider supply chain over the past 5 years, has convinced me that many organisations and individuals do not intend to wait for regulation. They want to do what they can to reduce carbon emissions now. The barrier is not willingness to act, but simply an incomplete understanding of what to do. If you’re one of them, then this guidance is for you.
The guidance is primarily written for providers of new build social housing, their consultants and contractors, but it is relevant to everyone operating in the built environment sector, including retrofit.
Over the past few decades a huge amount of work has been done to develop construction product data and the internationally agreed standards that are required to underpin consistent measurement. There are now thousands of construction product Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) which provide much of the hard data. There are many assessment tools that make embodied carbon analysis and reduction easy to assimilate into the design process, many of which are described in this guidance. Now in 2020, there is no technical reason not to embark on your embodied carbon reduction journey and this guidance is designed to support you.
That said, reducing embodied carbon does require us to confront the short-termism of the dominant models of house delivery. In particular, the manner in which materials and systems are put together with little thought given to their environmental impact or future resource needs. In that sense, embodied carbon reduction provides both the context and a measurement method to enable a profound re-framing of construction for the substantial benefit of current and future generations.
CEO of Woodknowledge Wales