The importance of "embodied" carbon in our fight against climate change
In the built environment "operational" carbon refers to carbon dioxide emissions and the emissions of other greenhouse gases resulting from the day-to-day operation of buildings from the time they are commissioned to their final demolition or re-purposing; for example the emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels such as natural gas, or from leaks into the atmosphere of refrigerants used in space heating and cooling systems. Conversely, "embodied" carbon refers to the one-time emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases resulting from the manufacturing of building materials, including the extraction of raw materials and transportation; as well as the emissions associated with building construction, the replacement of building systems and components, and the final disposal of the asset at the end of its useful life.
As a response to climate change we are making our buildings more efficient and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. Consequently, as we reduce the size of the operational carbon "pie", the importance of embodied carbon as a percentage of the overall life-cycle carbon emissions of buildings grows considerably.
We practitioners in the building industry share the professional and ethical responsibility to reduce and eventually eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and the emissions of other greenhouse gases from the building life-cycle, including both long-term operations and the complete supply chain.