What is Embodied Carbon and Why Does It Matter?
by NEHERS (Northeast Home Energy Rating System Alliance)
When most people think about the carbon footprint of a building, they think about how much electricity or heat a building uses. The greenhouse gases generated to produce electricity or heat are known as operational carbon emissions. For the last 16 years, the HERS Rating Industry has focused on reducing operational emissions (and we’ve done a great job!).
However, the emissions from the extraction, manufacturing and transportation of the building materials themselves are known as embodied carbon emissions or “cradle to gate” emissions. These emissions actually account for 60-90% of the total carbon emissions of the building’s full life cycle and they already exist in the atmosphere at the time construction begins! Operational emissions accrue on top of this baseline.
As we strive to build homes that are more energy efficient, we often use materials with high embodied carbon in order to achieve savings on operational emissions. Factoring in the embodied carbon of the materials themselves allows us to capture up-front carbon savings. This is a critical step if we want to reach the carbon targets needed to reverse climate change by 2030.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
If we want to be able to dial in on embodied carbon targets alongside operational targets, and design buildings that not only minimize embodied carbon, but actually store carbon in building materials, we need to establish an Embodied Carbon Index alongside the HERS Index. In order to do this, we must create a new RESNET Standard. And in order to show a broad base of support for the creation of such a Standard, WE NEED YOUR HELP!
If included in the RESNET Standards, an Embodied Carbon Index would become part of what is already the gold standard for home energy assessments in the residential home market. It could transform the HERS Industry into an even more powerful engine for tackling climate change within the next 10 years and would help to ensure that we have a livable planet for generations to come.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Watch our informational video
- Sign our letter of support
- Share these documents with your network
• NEHERS Embodied Carbon Position Paper
• NEHERS Embodied Carbon Built Environment Checklist