CAGBC releases embodied carbon primer
Staff on March 15, 2022
Guide will help building sector seize opportunities for timely and sustainable carbon reductions
Today, the Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) – with assistance from Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd. – released a white paper focused on buildings and low-carbon materials. Entitled Embodied Carbon: A Primer for Buildings in Canada, this report provides the building sector with information and context to better understand embodied carbon and address it in new and existing buildings.
Including all carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout a building’s life cycle, embodied carbon from building construction is responsible for 10 percent of all energy-related emissions globally. In Canadian buildings designed for low operational carbon, embodied carbon can represent over 90 percent of total emissions through to the year 2050. Clearly, embodied carbon must be addressed if Canada is to meet its climate change goals.
For the building sector, most embodied carbon stems from the raw material extraction, manufacture, transportation, and installation of materials used in construction, resulting in upfront carbon released into the atmosphere well before a building is operational. This only re-enforces the need for immediate action to reduce embodied carbon.
Increasingly, construction projects are performing life cycle assessments (LCAs) to quantify embodied carbon, and Canada’s building sector is currently transitioning from the basic quantification and reporting of embodied carbon to a stage where reductions must be demonstrated. The LEED™ and Zero Carbon Building – Design™ certification programs already reward projects for reductions in embodied carbon, as will the next iteration (v4) of the Toronto Green Standard. Helping this transition will be the National Research Council’s Low Carbon Assets through Life Cycle Assessment Initiative, also known as (LCA)2. This initiative was launched to assist the government in procuring infrastructure projects (including buildings) with lower embodied carbon. In support of this goal, (LCA)2 is developing:
- Whole-building life cycle assessment guidelines
- High quality life cycle inventory datasets for Canadian construction materials
- A Canadian life cycle inventory database
- Support for the integration of LCA into procurement processes
“Decarbonizing Canada’s built environment will require decisive action on both operational carbon and embodied carbon,” says Mark Hutchinson, Vice President of Green Building Programs at CAGBC. “Embodied carbon must be treated with the same urgency as operational carbon, and owners and developers, designers and builders, and governments all have a role to play.”
To achieve a zero-carbon society by 2050, all sectors of the economy must decarbonize. Reductions in embodied carbon are a part of this necessary work. The building sector can take advantage of innovations in forestry products, clean steel and low-carbon cement to help accelerate the decarbonization of the built environment. Despite the challenges surrounding embodied carbon, there are exciting opportunities for meaningful, timely carbon reductions.
Read the full paper here.