Carbon-Driven Design: Why Early Optimization Matters

Timing is (almost) everything. Decisions made during the early stages of a building project will define a building’s emissions throughout its lifetime.

Early design optimization is critical, as decarbonization opportunities decrease by approximately 50% as a typical project progresses through each of its stages. From a cost perspective, early stages also offer the greatest potential for embodied carbon reduction at the lowest cost.

The carbon reduction potential decreases at each stage of the project / Credit: One Click LCA
The carbon reduction potential decreases at each stage of the project / Credit: One Click LCA

Why materials are important

According to the International Energy Agency, the manufacture of building materials is responsible for around 10% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Architects, designers and engineers can reduce the impact by limiting the use of carbon-intensive materials or specifying low-carbon or recycled alternatives, or even setting carbon performance requirements for products specific. In all of these cases, early intervention is essential, as the chances of significantly revising designs, setting strong goals, and choosing different but better products diminish as the project progresses.

Establishing a carbon baseline is the first step in taking the right approach for a project. The baseline calculates the carbon footprint of the building without any reductions, laying the foundation for a carbon budget. From there, carbon hotspots and reduction opportunities can be identified.

However, during the early stages of the project, building professionals often lack detailed design data, making it difficult to establish a baseline. Fortunately, technology makes calculating a building’s carbon footprint earlier and easier than ever.

First assessments simplified

Carbon Designer 3D is a new tool from life cycle analysis specialist One Click LCA. It allows carbon footprints based solely on the size and type of building.

Using data from One Click LCA’s extensive construction database, the tool allows you to calculate your design’s baseline emissions, analyze impact hotspots and identify opportunities for improvement . The project team can then consider design alternatives, ensuring that carbon-based choices drive decision-making.

Visualize the carbon impact of different design options / Credit: One Click LCA
Visualize the carbon impact of different design options / Credit: One Click LCA

We are only eight years away from the World Green Building Council’s goal of achieving a 40% reduction in embodied carbon in all building projects by 2030 to limit the increase in global average temperature well below 2°C.

Architects, designers and engineers have a major role to play in ensuring we meet this challenge. Allowing embodied carbon information to guide design decisions from the start of every project is part of the step-change in approach needed to get there.

Learn more about embodied carbon reduction and how One Click LCA helps designers, builders and manufacturers reduce their impact.

References

  1. International Energy Agency (2021), Tracking Buildings 2021, IEA, Paris
  2. World Green Building Council (2019), Bringing embodied carbon upfront 2019. WorldGBC, London

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