Ignoring embodied carbon when measuring the carbon generated by buildings distorts how the impact of technology such as heating and AC systems is measured, according to a leading architect.
In his report Redefining Zero, produced for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Simon Sturgis has proposed a new approach to measuring the carbon emissions of buildings by combining embedded and operational emissions.
His carbon profiling tool quantifies whole-life carbon emissions of buildings - UK legislation to reduce carbon only includes operational carbon use. Currently the significant amounts of carbon used to make and maintain a building are ignored, as is the relationship between embodied and operational carbon usage.
The wind turbine, according to Mr Sturgis, is a great symbol of the misappropriation of an environmental resource which may actually do more harm than good.
“I have heard it said that given the amount of concrete that goes into a wind turbine’s base, and the carbon that produces, you are better off not building it,” he says.
“You should always take into account of how much energy goes into producing something because you could be fooling yourself.
“As you get closer and closer to zero-carbon you can end up using up more energy to get there.”
Research from Sturgis Associates shows the cost to achieve a 60 tonne CO2 reduction for a vertical axis wind turbine - suitable for light commercial through to large residential projects - would be £840,000. By comparison, to achieve the same reduction using biofuel boilers will cost £140,000.
One of the benefits of the system, according to Mr Sturgis, is that a comparison could be made between creating a new building and refurbishing an old one.
He adds that different materials and products could become further segregated as being appropriate for one type of building or another.
He says: “It will encourage manufacturers to make materials slightly differently. Materials that use a lot of energy will need to find ways of using less.”