The Carbon Challenge: Exploring Eco-Friendly Building Facades

Embodied carbon
James Bricknell


James Bricknell - Rainscreen Design Manager

If you’re not familiar with embodied carbon, it’s the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere during the construction of a building. Therefore, it’s of paramount importance for construction firms to keep tabs on it when monitoring their carbon footprints.

With the construction sector accounting for 38% of global carbon emissions, you can see why the concept of embodied carbon is so important.

As you can imagine, facades are a major contributor to embodied carbon. That’s why new initiatives (sustainable building practices) are being developed and implemented to help reduce carbon levels. With the widespread adoption of these initiatives, climate change can be combated.


Breaking Down Embodied Carbon

There are two main components that you need to know about:

Operational carbon - These are the total emissions used in a building, such as heating, ventilation, and lighting.

Embodied carbon - As we’ve mentioned, this is the amount of carbon emitted during the construction phase of a building. From the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of waste, as well as the production of building materials, the transportation of materials to the construction site and the construction itself, there can be a lot of carbon emissions when constructing a building.


Building Facades When Taking Embodied Carbon Into Consideration

The embodied carbon of a facade can vary by quite a lot depending on what materials are used, the production processes, transportation distances and installation.

For example, facades made from materials such as steel and concrete are much worse when it comes to embodied carbon than those made of timber, recycled materials, and low-carbon cement.


Life Cycle Assessment For Building Facades

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to assess the environmental impact of a product through its whole life cycle, from the collection of raw materials to installation.

This is also routinely applied to facades, and comparisons between different facade materials are often done to choose the material that will offer the least carbon footprint.

It is vital to know not only whether the material is recyclable, but also how much energy is used in the production, installation, and transportation of these facades.


Benefits of Low-Embodied Carbon Facades

Reducing your environmental impact through using low embodied carbon facades is a massive benefit. However, this isn’t the only benefit.

Another great benefit is improving your energy efficiency and enhancing indoor comfort. As we’ve mentioned, operational carbon is often as important as embodied carbon. Using these facades will trap the heat easier, which leads to heat staying inside the building, increasing comfort, and massively reducing your heating bills.

Everyone loves good cost-saving!

For example, glass wall facades are a type of low embodied carbon facades that often allow more light and warmth to come through the building, reducing the need for heating and lighting to be used as much.


Innovations and Advancements in Facade Design

There have been countless innovations and advancements in facade design over the years to reduce the level of embodied carbon, from adaptive facades to the integration of new renewable energy technologies.

Modular construction is one such innovation. This minimises pollution by producing less waste through manufacturing facades in a controlled factory environment.

Prefabrication is another one, which requires less transportation time (and less emissions) and quick installation, perfect for reducing embodied carbon. 


Industry Initiatives and Certifications

There is a wide range of industry initiatives and certifications in place to reduce embodied carbon. Let’s look at a couple of them here:

The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) provides construction companies with benchmarking and assessment to reduce embodied carbon by looking at the supply chain emissions that occur in certain materials used for facades.

The LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system that evaluates a project based on how well they reduce carbon, energy, water, waste, and transportation, among other things.

All of these are vital in fostering sustainable construction practices.


Future Trends and Challenges

Although there is currently a lot being done to lower embodied carbon in building facades, more can still be done to help the environment.

Further technological advancements need to be made, more comprehensive data, policies need to be written up and supported by big players in the industry, and higher awareness by stakeholders such as architects, engineers and developers all need to occur to stay on the right track of reducing environmental impact to a minimum.

With the construction industry accounting for such a high percentage of global emissions, it will (and needs to) play a massive role in reducing carbon emissions not just in construction, but in the wider world too.


Wrapping Up

Although some facades aren’t so good for the environment, countless materials and innovations have led to producing many eco-friendly building facades that save building owners lots of money thanks to their energy efficiency.

If you’re interested in finding more information about building facades, contact us at Built with Bailey today to learn more.