Building in carbon

Wood Focus magazine
27 Aug 2010
Timber building under construction

A technique for carbon profiling, as a solution for quantifying embodied and operational carbon in buildings, has been put forward in a report commissioned by the UK’s Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Simon Sturgis of Sturgis Associates in London, UK, who led the project, stated that
industry needs to look at design and technique to determine the carbon input of a structure at the conference on Embodied Carbon, London, UK held on 5th May.

The methodology merges a new model by Sturgis called Embodied Carbon Efficiency (ECE), with the existing Building Emission Rates (BER). In addition, the system also measures structure, cladding, landlord and tenant fit-outs, services, previous building development and roof and component analysis, such as central plant and façades.

He explains, ‘If you observe a cladding system technique in a building, then no matter how environmental or fancy the materials used, the life structure can be easily determined. The cladding system may have been done once but the fittings could be done many times over, assessing components and their lifecycle are key to carbon calculation. The amount of jobs one material can do, in terms of façades should also be calculated.’

The second half of the event saw a mixed panel take questions from the floor and the need to include embodied carbon in the building control approval process (Part L) led the debate.

On reducing building related carbon, Sarah Cary of UK property investor, British Land, called for a ‘grid for decarbon-isation of materials, estimated lifetimes and the need to go beyond Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method guidelines’. Landlord and tenant responsibility in carbon measurement was also highlighted by Cary, who concluded that both need to take equal action. Further contested by delegates, is the increased focus on recycled building
components and carbon calculation, as opposed to offsetting. A common EU standard was also a concern and it was agreed that ‘EU building regulations needed to be adapted for a more rigorous British standard’.

Clarifying carbon allocation in temporary structures is also important, specifically in cases such as the 2012 London Olympics. A delegate from The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 stated temporary developments need to be formed of existing structures to lower their environmental impact.

The issue of accurate carbon life assessment and embodied value was further complicated by the unanswered question on whether it was better to demolish an old building, that represents a large embodied carbon resource but is carbon inefficient, or replace it with a highly carbon efficient building that never leaves the supply chain.

Debating the role of regulations, Guy Battle of international consulting company, Deloitte, UK who was in the panel, urged for ‘transparency and a standard, conclusive metric’.

The open debate concluded with the need for industry to work closer with academia to produce a more consistent method for calculating embodied and operational carbon simultaneously, which could also be implemented in company costing and international public offerings (IPO). The Sturgis report tries to begin addressing this need.