Embodied energy is the energy (and therefore carbon) which went into the original construction of a building.
With corporate occupiers increasingly committing to a carbon neutral future, the spot-light is beginning to focus on embodied energy. You might ask why it is that an occupier need concern itself with this (rather than in-use energy), after all they didn't construct the building. However, can occupiers look at the premises they occupy, which wouldn't have been built without their pre-let commitment, and say "that's not my carbon"?
It is increasingly common to see buildings' sustainability records being promoted as one of their key selling points. Running on 100% renewable energy and having net-zero operational carbon is a common boast, which could be a key factor in selecting new premises, yet this conveniently overlooks the carbon which went into the original construction.
The 2018 Global Status Report, coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme, identifies cement and steel, which are used in large quantities in the construction industry, as creating high carbon dioxide emissions. It is estimated by ACAN that three-quarters of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan are accounted for by embodied carbon; however, continuing to utilise older buildings is not without sustainability issues.
Older buildings often do not have sufficient space to accommodate modern zero carbon equipment, such as air source heat pumps. But by simply replacing old plant, with existing outdated technology, the problem becomes locked in for the lifecycle of the replacement equipment. Landlords need to plan ahead and work with occupiers to find solutions to decarbonise their buildings, else risk a "flight to green", seeing them on the wrong side of a dividing market.
Occupiers often face a choice between old buildings, with poor in-use energy, and new buildings, with high embodied carbon. There are a wide array of certifications and accreditations available to help make this choice, but to be fully informed on the true carbon cost of premises, the sector needs embrace a single unified system of measuring in-use and embodied energy.
Forsters has been carbon neutral since 2007
“embodied carbon” accounts for up to three-quarters of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan Architects Climate Action Network