The Carbon Footprint Fetish

The difficult truth to hear is that all buildings have a carbon footprint and a carbon footprint is defined as the amount of CO2 it produces during its operations and activities. Whatever the uses and abuses of climate research lately are, buildings are still said to cause 40% of carbon emissions. By educating ourselves, as well as clients and consultants, the entire team shall be able to ensure that building design has the smallest negative impact possible on the environment.

What Contributes to a Building’s Carbon Footprint?

Generally, the concept of carbon pollution is linked to the transportation sector, but what about the buildings that produce pollution both directly and indirectly representing 40% of carbon dioxide emissions according to the Green Building Council. Transportation has second place with 33% of emissions, and industrial activity it in third place at 29%.

There are several contributors to a building’s carbon footprint. A building’s energy use is something that people are aware of, and efforts are made to reduce with solar, wind, or geothermal elements. Water supply being another contributing factor, as pumping it to the building requires fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions caused by the transportation of materials to the construction site, as well as the embodied carbon of those materials used to construct the building.

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According to the researchers, by 2050, the embodied carbon of materials in buildings will account for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. Embodied carbon accounts for all the processes involved with extracting, producing, installing and transporting materials for construction purposes. Building emissions are a combination of two things:

  1. Day-to-day energy use (Operational carbon emissions): From powering lighting, heating, cooling, building operations account 28% of emissions annually.
  2. Amount of carbon generated through manufacturing building materials, transporting materials to construction sites and also the construction process.

Embodied carbon of a building, accounts for one-quarter of a building’s total lifecycle carbon emissions, globally accounting to 11% of emissions.

So What is Embodied Carbon?

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide created by a building and during the manufacture and transport of materials, during its construction, through maintenance to its fabric, and even by demolition. Embodied carbon further includes the upkeep or replacement of a building’s structure, envelope, and environmental systems over time. An element of embodied carbon is also accountable by demolition and disposal of materials at the end of a building’s life.

Buildings consume 35% of all generated energy and 60% of all electricity. Will it be safe to say architecture shall  play a key role when it comes to taking action against global warming?”

How to Reduce a Building’s Carbon Footprint?

Decarbonization, or trying to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions to start with. Although all buildings must be et zero carbon by 2050 to meet the goals, not even 1% of the building are considered net-zero carbon today.

  1. As most of the building-related carbon emissions come from energy use, the first step is by addressing emissions is reducing consumption through energy-efficient design.
  2. Replacing fossil fuels with on-site carbon-free renewable energy, then off-site renewables.
  3. Avoid purchasing carbon offsets.

An energy-efficient building can be a brand-new structure or an existing one retrofitted with new mechanical systems, heating, cooling, and lighting. Decarbonization can look like a net-zero building, producing renewable energy onsite and delivering as much energy to the electric grid as it uses. A net-zero carbon-free renewable energy to meet operations annually and offset the carbon emitted from construction.

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How does the Building sector Reduce Carbon Emissions?

All the leaders in the architecture and building industry are exploring new ways to make a difference, through certification programs like LEED, Energy Star, Passive House, and Living Building Challenge. But with the climate crisis coming into sharp relief, and is taking on more urgency. The transition towards mainstream net-zero carbon standards requires immediate action to achieve greater awareness, innovation, improved processes to calculate, track and report embodied carbon with reduction targets from the industry.

Some companies are exploring ways to enable the shift to a ‘circular’ building sector, encouraging the reuse of materials and reduction of waste. These building products are supposed to be designed with their future reuse in mind. ‘Data passports’ for materials used in buildings will be a driver for the shift, based on the logic that accurately documents the value of materials. The passports will also make it a lot easier for architects, renovators, designers and developers to choose sustainable and circular materials.

How to Reduce your Building Carbon Footprint?

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that greatly contributes to negative global climate change and the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from human activities will raise the global temperatures by 2.5 F to 10 F this century. Impacting the sea level to rise, more frequent floods and droughts, increase in the spread of infectious diseases.

Managing and reducing carbon footprints as a part of a low carbon strategy will inherit its cost benefits and revenue opportunities and importance in building design. Building green is one of the best strategies to temper negative climate change as the technology to make substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions already exist.

Reducing a building’s carbon footprint reduces its running costs, improves employee morale, raises property values and LEED scores. Buildings become environmentally responsible, profitable and healthier places to live and work in.

Following ways can help reduce a building’s footprint:

  1. Evaluate: Measure and evaluate a building’s design carbon footprint as early in the process possible.
  2. HVAC: It comprises 40% of all carbon emissions, incorporating the most efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, along with efficient operations and scheduled maintenance of such systems. Approximately most of the buildings are ventilated with outside air needs to be heated or cooled. Installing a low-energy humidifier instead of a typical electric steam humidifier will reduce a building’s carbon footprint.
  3. Continuous insulation: In a steel-framed building, thermal shorts reduce the assembly R-value of cavity-insulated wall systems by more than 50%. ‘The most recent International Code Council (ICC) regulations for continuous insulation allow building owners to save millions of dollars in energy bills over the lifetime of a building. These savings are realized by increasing thermal performance and preventing thermal bridging through the use of continuous insulation.’ – Says Tanya Schnelzer.
  4. Lighting: Lighting accounts for approximately 40% of the energy used in a commercial building, solar thermal gain lowers carbon footprints, but during summer causes overheating and increases the need for cooling. Solar control window films can reduce carbon footprints by cutting energy needs by 30%.
  5. Recycled content: Choosing recycled building materials that have a less negative effect on the environment. Metal building systems are the ideal product for sustainability and green as steel is the most recycled material on the plant, says Wes Brooker.
  6. Water Usage: A major factor contributing to the carbon footprint of a building is the amount of energy expended to supply, treat and use the water. Water-oriented strategies significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Use of plumbing equipment that prevents leaks or real water loss.
  7. Renewable energy: A building’s carbon footprint can be reduced by sourcing its operational energy from environmentally responsible sources, generating renewable energy on-site. Using the walls or roof of a building for solar air heating, solar electric photovoltaic (PV) systems or solar water heating.


Architects shall note that as temperature rises, construction will be hit particularly hard, as so much of it occurs in the open air. We have got less than 10 years to slow down global warming and the best you can do is, select carbon-smart materials for building, adapt and retrofit existing buildings, pursue renewable energy. It’s the right time to join the movement if you haven’t already and by working together as a profession that architects can make a worldwide difference for the planet and for humanity.

Previous Coverage:

  1. Green Building Trends: Passive House
  2. A.I. & Robots Revolutionizing the Construction Industry
  3. Towards Regenerative Development
  4.  Augmented Reality Transforming Cities
  5. Coastal cities at the highest risks?
  6. Co-Living, A buzzword of 21st Century!

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An Architect by profession & practice, Pranita is a keen observer and specialises in content, visualisation, and presentation. Cyber attacks & Architecture Technology in the far more technologically-advanced world made her realise that there is a lack of necessary awareness among people. Hence, keeping you all updated and protected by all means with subjects from Architecture Technology to Security Awareness.Currently working as a Head of Content, content writer & creator at BLARROW.TECH

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