Sustainability of Buildings

12 July 2021

RIBA promoting new practices

The Royal institute of British Architects (RIBA) is getting increasingly interested in the challenges of building with a minimal Carbon Footprint over the entire life cycle of a building.

Whole Life Carbon Metric

Understanding the impact of our buildings – it is important to consider their carbon footprint as comprehensively as possible. A whole life carbon (WLC) approach considers all the carbon emissions produced over the entire life cycle of a building.

A simplistic definition of WLC is the operational energy plus the embodied carbon of a building. A more sophisticated WLC approach will also consider the building’s afterlife too; the carbon cost of its disposal as well as its construction.

A WLC approach takes many factors into account including

  • raw material extraction and supply
  • transport of raw materials to where they will become building products
  • manufacturing of building products
  • transport to site
  • the construction process and disposal of waste
  • use of the building during its lifetime
  • end of the building: its disposal, demolition, deconstruction, or reuse

As an example, a WLC analysis of a typical UK office building concludes that around one third of the total emissions are tied to embodied carbon when it is completed.

What can be achieved

Lark Rise, designed by Bere Architects, produces twice as much energy per year as it consumes, drawing 97% less energy from the grid than the average UK house and exporting ten times as much energy back than it imports.  

Lark Rise has been designed to show how the 'Smart Energy Revolution' has the potential to enable the UK to be fuelled entirely by renewable energy, all the time. This ‘building as power station’ concept will allow the UK to be self-sufficient in cheap renewable energy; and therefore energy-secure. 

Circular Economy

A thorough approach to achieving net zero whole life carbon should involve circular economy principles. The overarching circular economy concept is well articulated by the Ellen MacArthur foundation. 

It is a "cradle to cradle" principle that seeks to use as little as possible and reuse as much as possible. In constructing a building, materials should retained in use for as long as possible and then reused or recycled as much as possible.

Buildings should be designed for adaptation, easy deconstruction, and reuse.

London Leading the Way

Planning policies are starting to appear that will be drivers of WLC and reuse of materials. The new London Plan is already calling for the adoption of circular economy principles for large scale applications that are referable to the Mayor, and for large infrastructure projects. These will require a formal Circular Economy Statement.


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