The building industry is a significant contributor to climate change. Buildings and construction are currently responsible for 39% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (UNE 2017), and since the rate of construction is only expected to grow in the coming decades, reducing emissions from the building sector is critical to addressing climate change. GHG emissions from the operation of buildings have been most significant, but as buildings’ operational energy consumption is reduced, along with the associated operational emissions, the embodied emissions from building materials are becoming proportionally more significant.
Embodied carbon emissions refer to the GHG emissions attributed to materials throughout their life cycle – resource extraction and production, installation, use, and end of life – typically reported in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2 eq). These emissions, along with other environmental impacts, can be estimated through life cycle assessments (LCA), calculations that multiply the environmental impacts of a unit of a material (as determined through measurements, models, or other means)
with the quantity of that material used in a building project. Information on the environmental impacts are provided by the assessment tools; information on the material quantity is provided by a project’s bill of materials (BoM). Embodied carbon assessments are LCAs that exclude the operational energy and water use and consider only on the embodied carbon emissions from building materials.
The UBC Embodied Carbon Pilot is a multi-year research study on the practice of conducting LCAs to measure a building’s global warming potential (GWP), and how they can be used effectively to inform policy and guidelines on embodied carbon emission from building materials, through the establishment of benchmarks and eventually performance targets. The Pilot is being conducted by the Urban Innovation Research team in the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), in collaboration with UBC Campus
and Community Planning and Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, and supported by funding from Forestry Innovation Investment’s Wood First program.