What is Embodied Carbon?

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure. 

It includes any CO₂ created during the manufacturing of building materials (material extraction, transport to manufacturer, manufacturing), the transport of those materials to the job site, and the construction practices used. 

Put simply, embodied carbon is the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational. It also refers to the CO₂ produced maintaining the building and eventually demolishing it, transporting the waste, and recycling it.

Embodied carbon is distinct from operational carbon — the carbon that comes from energy, heat, lighting, etc. Thanks to advances in reducing operational carbon, recent data from the World Green Building Council indicates that embodied carbon is becoming a larger portion of a building's overall carbon footprint. 

Why Embodied Carbon is a Focus in Construction

The world’s building stock is expected to double by 2060 — that's equivalent to adding an entire New York City to the planet every month for the next 40 years. 

This is good news for concrete producers. However, without some changes in how we produce concrete, it’s bad news for climate change. Cement — the key ingredient that gives concrete its strength — is also one of the largest emitters of CO2 in the built environment.  

Since concrete is the most abundant human-made material in the world, cement production creates an estimated ~7% of the world’s CO2 emissions and is the largest contributor to embodied carbon in the built environment.

Tackling Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon is expected to account for nearly 50% of the overall carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

Embodied carbon emissions

To address embodied carbon, a number of organizations including Architecture 2030, Structural Engineers 2050 Challenge (SE2050), the Carbon Leadership Forum, and the World Green Building Council have jointly taken on a mission to eliminate embodied carbon from buildings by the year 2050. 

One of the simplest ways to move the needle on embodied carbon is to change the way concrete is specified. Watch our on-demand webinar, The Case for Performance-Based Concrete Specs, to learn more. 


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