Focus turns to embodied carbon emissions

The Syntegra team is committed to helping the construction industry fulfil its requirements of cutting emissions from embodied carbon – as well as operational carbon – in the drive towards net zero to tackle the climate crisis.

Embodied carbon emissions have largely been overlooked historically but contribute around 11% of all global carbon emissions, according to the World Green Building Council.

They include those released during the manufacturing, transportation, construction and end of life phases of all built assets.

And the WorldGBC estimates that carbon emissions released before the building or infrastructure begins to be used, so-called ‘upfront carbon’, will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

A report from them in 2019, ‘Bringing embodied carbon upfront: Coordinated action for the building and construction sector to tackle embodied carbon,’ said: ‘As operational carbon is reduced, embodied carbon will continue to grow in importance as a proportion of total emissions. While we must continue to focus on addressing operational carbon we must now rapidly increase efforts to tackle embodied carbon emissions at a global scale, too.’

In the report, WorldGBC outlined its vision that:

  • By 2030, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have at least 40% less embodied carbon with significant upfront carbon reduction, and all new buildings are net zero operational carbon.
  • By 2050, new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have net zero embodied carbon, and all buildings, including existing buildings must be net zero operational carbon.

A host of organisations have supported the call from across the construction value chain including developers and construction companies, financial institutions, city networks and government, as well as industry representatives from concrete, steel and timber.

Syntegra concurs with the WorldGBC’s conclusion that this climate emergency calls for urgent action now to radically transform current unsustainable models of consumption and the built environment sector has a vital role to play in heralding change.

There has been plenty of focus in the media around alternatives to fossil fuels and other energy efficiencies that can be introduced.

But we believe more could be done around other improvements throughout the lifecycle of a building project to curb the negative impact on the environment.


Demand-side organisations within the value chain, including investors, developers and designers, must work together with those on the supply side – the contractors and materials manufacturers. Strong policy and regulatory support with access to finance will be key and we support their introduction.

Increasing amounts of low embodied carbon products and solutions are entering the market and we encourage all our clients to consider them throughout the lifetime of their projects.

The WorldGBC’s suggested route to reducing embodied carbon is one we wholeheartedly endorse:

  1. Prevent – avoid embodied carbon from the outset by considering alternative strategies to deliver the desired function
  2. Reduce and optimise – evaluate each design choice in terms of the upfront carbon reductions and as part of a whole lifecycle approach
  3. Plan for the future – take steps to avoid future embodied carbon during and at end of life
  4. Offset – as a last resort, offset residual embodied carbon emissions within the project or organisational boundary where possible or if necessary through verified offset schemes

We work with our clients to offer a range of practical solutions in a bid to boost their own environmental credentials. For example, any building layers that are simply aesthetic rather than structural, such as some forms of cladding, should be abandoned; local materials should be used in any project wherever possible to reduce transportation distances; reduce waste through careful identification of specifications; buy materials that are as long-lasting as possible to minimise repeat building and logistical operations; consider implementing a circular economy approach to all developments.

Talk to our consultants today about recommendations for reducing embodied carbon…you will be surprised how quickly and cost-effectively many measure can be integrated into your normal business processes.