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What is the carbon footprint in construction? We talk about its monitoring and reduction.

19 of December '22

Among the most important factors shaping the architecture of the future, will be the consideration of carbon dioxide in the design, construction and operation process. How is this issue shaping up today?

The carbon footprint, calculated as the equivalent of carbon dioxide "released" into the atmosphere, is one of the factors that shape discussions on architecture today. The issue of green solutions cannot be limited to the installation of photovoltaics or green roofs on bus stops. What should carbon footprint reduction be based on?

We talk to Dorota Mogielnicka, sustainability specialist and CEO of Greensite, about what the carbon footprint is for construction, how it should be calculated and what reducing it is based on.

Wiktor Bochenek: It's worth starting with the basics. What is the carbon footprint for the construction industry?

Dorota Mogielnicka (Greensite): As for all activities - the carbon footprint is a measurement. A globally accepted measure of an activity's impact on the environment. Taking a more definitive approach: in terms of buildings, the carbon footprint is an estimate of the sum of greenhouse gas emissions over afacility's life cycle. It is expressed in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per reference unit, such as per building or per 1 sq. m. of floor space. De facto, it is an averaged unit by which we can measure and compare buildings or building products among themselves.

Wiktor: What goes into it for construction and how do we count it?

Dorothy: We can distinguish between theinput carbon footprint, that is, the one related to the construction phase of a building: the embedded carbon footprint , that is, the one related to the entire life cycle of a building; and the end-of-life carbon footprint, which refers to emissions related to the demolition and disposal phase.

Each phase is defined in the standards and consists of smaller elements, such as the transportation of raw materials or the replacement of worn-out elements during the life of the building. We calculate it based on accepted design assumptions and environmental data for the various materials being built into the facility.

HDR - Office & Cowork Centre - jedna z realizacji, gdzie Greensite prowadziło monitoring śladu węglowego

HDR - Office & Cowork Center - one of the projects where Greensite conducted carbon footprint monitoring

© Greensite

It's hard not to clash with the opinion that the carbon footprint, at least the individual one, is a liability shift? Does this attitude also project onto the construction industry?

Dorota: I am not fond of this statement. Everyone is responsible for his or her carbon footprint, it seems to me that there is no shifting of responsibility. My decision is whether I buy a product in this or that packaging, from a local source or brought from the other side of the world.

Of course, it's hard to expect consumer decisions alone without big changes in business and regulation toachieve zero-carbon, but remember that it's consumer decisions that often force manufacturers or service providers to make significant changes.

In the case of the carbon footprint of buildings, this is even more important. Given that construction accounts for 38% of Poland's CO2 emissions, every decision at the design and construction level means potentially huge savings. We can optimizethe carbon footprintby choosing less carbon-intensive materials, shortening delivery distances, or forgoing exotic cladding. These are matters of choice. The important thing is to be aware that this choice is there and that it matters.

In what state do the sustainable building certifications we are familiar with, such as BREEAM or LEED, reflect reality well?

Dorota: Both LEED and BREEAM are multi-criteria certifications. Their function is to depict a building and place it on an accepted scale of "meeting requirements." In this respect they are important, they give comparability and measurability of certain scopes and criteria.

Do they represent reality? Yes, in the set aspects. It's like with school rankings. In one ranking, a school performs terribly, because the number of Olympians in the graduating class is measured, while in another it would perform excellently, because the criterion adopted is the number of people who got to study at a university that is among the top five Polish universities.

In the case of LEED and BREEAM, it is similar. Therefore, an aspect thatlowers the ranking may be the lack of an adequate number of inner tube patches at bicycle repair stations, while it will not be the lack of a beehive on the roof of a building. It is a reality measured by a preset yardstick, but a yardstick that is common to all.

Dorota Mogielnicka

Dorota Mogielnicka

© Greensite

Victor: What is most important when balancing the design and construction process?

Dorota: Awareness and willingness, both of the designer and the investor, and consequently of the contractor. If the investor is genuinely interested in reducing emissivity, he will understand that the designer's decisions take emissivity into account in addition to aesthetic or ergonomic parameters. Of course, the designer also needs to be aware and able to choose materials and solutions with the most favorable carbon footprint. And since full standardization is still lacking here, it is not an easy process.

We come to the point where the building or interior is finished. What is the subsequent process of reducing and tracking the carbon footprint?

Dorota: This is where the issues of the so-called operational carbon footprint come in, that is, the reduction of emissions related to the operation of the building and space. Companies seem to be more aware in this area. Perhaps this is because reducing emissions within an organization, whether through office rationalization or building energy optimization, translates directly into electricity and heat bills. The embedded carbon footprint does not yet enjoy such understanding.

Monitoring śladu węglowego to nie tylko budownictwo biurowe i mieszkalne, ale też sportowe jak Legia Training Center

Carbon footprint monitoring is not just for office and residential buildings, but also for sports facilities like the Legia Training Center

© Greensite

Does the construction industry see this problem? Is there interest in monitoring the carbon footprint and design process?

Dorota: By the number of inquiries we receive, we can safely say that the problem is starting to become apparent. Carbon footprint monitoring is not yet a popular tool, but it is becoming increasingly important. The construction industry cannot turn its back on the trends of a changing world and the need to measure the environmental impact of a company or product. Therefore, more and more players are looking for solutions to reduce the embedded carbon footprint and are trying to check and optimize it.

The essence is to capture those elements that have a key impact on the amount of built-in emissions and reduce them.

Victor: If you had to summarize in one sentence, why is this so important?

Dorota: We have no choice. If wewant to save the planet, we have to act on all available levels. Buildings will be built, people must have space to live and work, and it's important that what we create also gives future generations a chance to function.

Wiktor: Thank you for the interview!

HDR - Office & Cowork Centre - jedna z realizacji, gdzie Greensite prowadziło monitoring śladu węglowego

HDR - Office & Cowork Center - one of the projects where Greensite conducted carbon footprint monitoring

© Greensite

interviewed Wiktor Bochenek

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