Carbon Emissions in the Production of Building Materials
The production of building materials is a major contributor to carbon emissions. The extraction, processing, and transportation of these materials all contribute to their embodied carbon - the total greenhouse gas emissions produced throughout the lifecycle of a material.
In the UK, the construction sector is responsible for approximately 40% of the country's total carbon emissions, with a significant portion of this coming from the production of building materials. For instance, cement production alone contributes to around 8% of global CO2 emissions.
Carbon Emissions During Use
The use of building materials also contributes to carbon emissions, primarily through the energy consumed during the operational phase of a building's lifecycle. This includes the energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, and running appliances and systems within the building.
In the UK, buildings account for around 29% of energy use, contributing to significant CO2 emissions. However, with efficient design and maintenance strategies, these emissions can be significantly reduced. For instance, the SFG20 Carbon Guide provides valuable insights into how building maintenance professionals can reduce carbon emissions through effective and sustainable practices.
Carbon Emissions at End of Life
The disposal of building materials at the end of their lifecycle also contributes to carbon emissions. This includes the energy used and emissions produced during demolition, waste transportation, and landfill operations.
In the UK, construction, demolition, and excavation waste accounts for 59% of total UK waste. However, the industry is making strides in reducing these emissions, with a recycling rate of around 91% for construction and demolition waste.
Several building projects in the UK have successfully reduced the carbon lifecycle of their building materials. For instance, the Kingspan Lighthouse, the UK's first net-zero carbon house, was constructed using a range of low-carbon technologies and materials. With annual fuel costs of just £30 - compared to around £500 for a comparable house, Lighthouse pushed the boundaries of modern housing design and was the first house to achieve the highest level of the UK government’s Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), level 6.
Another example is the University of Bradford's Bright Building. This building was constructed using hemp-lime, a low-carbon, renewable material that absorbs CO2 during its growth and throughout its lifecycle. The Bright Building has achieved the highest BREEAM rating of 'Outstanding', demonstrating excellence in sustainable building practices.
Understanding the carbon lifecycle of building materials is crucial in the fight against climate change. By considering the embodied carbon in the production phase, operational carbon during use, and disposal emissions at the end of life, we can make more informed choices about the materials we use in construction.
The UK construction industry is already making significant strides in this area, with a strong focus on recycling and the use of low-carbon materials. However, there is still much work to be done. By continuing to innovate and prioritise sustainability in all stages of a building's lifecycle, we can significantly reduce the carbon impact of our built environment.
For more information on how to reduce carbon emissions in building maintenance, check out the SFG20 Carbon Guide. It provides a wealth of information and practical strategies for building maintenance professionals looking to make a positive impact on the environment.