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World Environment Day: Decarbonisation, embodied carbon and refurbishing existing buildings

The 5th of June each year is World Environment Day. Its purpose is to engage and inspire people across the planet to protect and restore our planet. World Environment Day is a global platform for positive change. People from more than 150 countries participate in this United Nations international day, which celebrates environmental action and the power of governments, businesses and individuals to create a more sustainable world and reduce our carbon emissions.

In the construction industry we have a real opportunity to make a difference here and have a positive impact on the environment. One of the most effective ways we can do that is through how we manage embodied carbon and embrace decarbonisation in our practices. And one of the best ways to achieve that is through the refurbishment and retrofitting of existing properties. After all, recycling what we already have and creating less waste is one of the keys to protecting the environment.

What is embodied carbon?

Just think of all the different materials that go into the construction and fit-out of a new building. Fabricating and moving all of that concrete, steel, glass and more releases a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere. These emissions are called “embodied carbon” because the carbon emissions from producing and transporting the materials have already occurred. Startling fact: The construction sector accounts for 37% of global carbon emissions, of which 16% represents embodied carbon mainly from material manufacturing.

The need to decarbonise construction

Decarbonisation is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through the use of low carbon power sources, achieving a lower output of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Construction is an essential sector to the world economy, but with emissions coming from sourcing and producing materials, logistics and construction activities accounting for more than 16% of global CO2 emissions, the industry must decarbonise.

How refurbishment helps with decarbonisation

The natural inclination in construction and property development is often to new buildings and contemporary designs. But from a carbon emissions and sustainability perspective, retrofitting an existing building is by far the more efficient path. After all, the majority of a building’s embodied carbon lies in its foundation, structure, and envelope – and the extraction, construction and transportation of those materials. Reusing those elements of an existing building makes more sense than demolishing and rebuilding when you consider the amount of carbon emissions and air pollution.

Recycling buildings

Renovation projects usually save between 50 - 75% of embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new building. If the foundations and structure are already preserved, most of the embodied carbon will already be there, drastically reducing new emissions.

Reusing materials

Second-hand materials such as brick, metal, wood and even broken concrete can make a big difference to embodied carbon emissions. These salvaged materials have a lower carbon footprint, as the carbon used to make them has already been spent. Steel that is brand new has an embodied carbon footprint five times greater than recycled content steel.

Commercial interiors alone account for as much as 25% of the construction and design waste stream, according to a concept paper released by All for Reuse. By using recycled materials, project managers can reduce embodied emissions by as much as 50% for retrofits and 99% for new construction, the paper claims.

Built Interiors Project: David Lloyd Leisure

This project in Clonskeagh, Dublin called for the renovation and repurpose of our client’s existing leisure facility and health club. The work was carried out in a live working environment and involved the refurbishment of an area of approximately 42,000 square feet. As well as fitting new fitness studios and changing rooms, the health spa was upgraded to include a new hydro pool, heat experience, plus a new lounge, full restaurant and reception, where all glazing and doors were replaced. We upgraded the tiling and light fittings in the pool area and developed a new cinema room and lab to our client’s requirements for their dedicated children’s area.

Work with us to decarbonise your next construction project

Built Interiors has years of experience and expertise in the refurbishment and fit-out of buildings, both occupied and unoccupied. If you’d like to find out more about our sustainability practices and how refurbishing existing buildings helps to reduce carbon emissions and decarbonise construction projects, get in touch with us today.

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