New guidance for developers on embodied carbon


UK-GBC has recently launched new guidance to help clients tackle embodied carbon, “Embodied Carbon: Developing a Client Brief”. At UK-GBC we have had an active interest in this area for several years, having started raising awareness within our member network during Embodied Carbon Week in 2014. Following further engagement with our members, it became clear that there was a role for us to play in progressing the level of action within the industry.

The question posed was how do we help pave the way for clients to start measuring their assets’ embodied carbon content? The solution we have devised is a piece of action-oriented guidance that is aimed exclusively at the client community, enabling them to instigate change through the supply chain.

Unpacking the relationship of clients to embodied carbon isn’t simple. The power that clients hold in driving sustainability issues through their supply chains is indeed significant. However, this driving force can be stunted due to the simple fact that embodied carbon, and its parent topic, life cycle assessment, are traditionally the preserve of technical carbon consultants.

Part of the unpacking exercise was how to translate a technical sustainability topic into client-friendly language and link it to client-focused concerns. Clients might currently know that embodied carbon is “something we should be managing” but the journey from this point to embodied carbon fluency is not simple. Clarifying the language and revealing the necessary hidden assumptions that come part and parcel of an embodied carbon assessment is important, not solely for the sake of accuracy, but for the sake of clients understanding what it is that they have asked their supply chains to deliver. Clients with an embodied carbon number need to be able to know what to do with it, otherwise the assessment is rendered meaningless.

Clients have traditionally been focused on assets’ operational emissions. Recent research shows that whilst operational emissions over an asset’s lifetime will constitute the majority of its total emissions, the proportion of embodied carbon emissions is not insignificant. Depending on the build, and the type of asset, embodied carbon can be in the region of 60-70% of life cycle emissions. This poses more questions around how client organisations report on embodied carbon, their Scope 3 emissions footprint and any targets linked to a “net zero carbon economy” by 2050. The GRESB survey and indices like the DJSI and CDP now ask for increased detail around Scope 3 emissions, which will require more investors and asset owners to calculate, and reduce, embodied carbon.   

Our new guidance aims to help clients write effective briefs in order to commission embodied carbon assessments. It is split into sections that break down the process of creating an embodied carbon brief into six simple questions that clients can ask internally. It also provides example wording that clients can use, and culminates in an example client brief in the spirit of “here’s one UK-GBC prepared earlier”.

We hope that with this new guidance, built environment clients, from investors to local authorities, can take a confident next step towards measuring embodied carbon on projects. 

Embodied Carbon: Developing a Client Brief is available to download here.