The construction industry is responsible for over a tenth of the world’s man-made carbon emissions, with concrete being the biggest culprit. How can we continue to build, without it costing the earth?
Sanitized thinned site on the Deschutes National Forest has removed most of the carbon (and wildlife habitat) which is subsequently emitted as Greenhouse Gases into the atmosphere. Photo George Wuerthner
For instance, one study estimates that logging in the United States releases five times the carbon as wildfire, bark beetles, wind thrown, land use conservations, and drought combined.
Affectionately known as the Money Box, 5 Martin Place is one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings. (Credit: ABC licensed)
“If you look at the steel, we’ve avoided 5,000 tonnes in carbon emissions by not having to produce the steel that would have been needed to replace that building,” Mr Wall said.
Construction time again. Deviatov Aleksei
The big unsaid: What I mean here is the carbon emissions involved in making, renovating and then eventually dismantling the building. This includes everything from mining the materials for the cement to chopping down the trees for the floorboards to transporting everything to the building site to digging the foundations; and then later from knocking the building down to disposing of its constituent parts. We sometimes refer to the emissions while a building is functioning as the operational carbon, and all the other emissions across its life cycle as the embodied carbon.
Focusing on one and not the other is puzzling to say the least – we’re effectively trying to take the carbon out of our energy bills while paying no attention to the carbon in the buildings themselves.