Find how to sourse sustainable materials and learn about embodied carbon calculator tools.

Embodied carbon calculator tools

What is embodied carbon?

Embodied carbon is the carbon emissions produced from the construction of a building and its fabric. Typically this includes emission from activities such as manufacturing the materials (e.g. quarrying and processing), transporting them to the factory and to the development site, and also construction processes on-site.

Why is it important?

Under present Building Regulations, around 20% of all carbon emissions associated with a dwelling arise from the construction stage – the remainder (80%) are emitted in operating it, through heating, lighting, hot water, etc. In 2013, new dwellings are required to be 44% more energy efficient than in 2006 – embodied carbon will make up around 45% of whole-life emissions. By 2016, dwellings are expected to be ‘Zero-Carbon’ (in operation), meaning embodied emissions will account for 100% of all emissions associated with a dwelling.

The Brighton and Hove embodied carbon calculator tool

The design tool linked to this checklist calculates the embedded carbon of a residential construction project, and shows how specification decisions can increase or reduce embedded carbon. It shows that using renewable and recycled materials is environmentally beneficial. The tool is not designed to calculate embodied carbon from the construction of non-residential development.

This tool is as simple as possible and therefore does not include carbon emissions associated with transport of materials.

The Brighton & Hove embedded carbon estimator is linked from the sustainability checklist page on materials.

Other free online embodied carbon calculator tools

Locally sourced materials

The definition of 'locally sourced' is that construction materials are produced locally, reducing the need to transport and reducing the resulting transport emissions. Local sourcing does not in this case mean materials that are procured locally from local suppliers. For our purposes local is defined as within the south east region, and may mean for example chestnut which is locally grown, or bricks made with local clay.

It is often difficult to source materials locally as this reduces choice and may mean seeking smaller local suppliers. Therefore where there has been resources and creativity used to source local materials this achievement should be noted in the planning application, and the materials listed.

Timber certified from sustainable sources

Much timber on the market is destructively or illegally logged, so it is important to have a certification system that can assess the logging industry's impact in forestry areas on both the environment and the communities who live there. Certification schemes offer reassurance that the certified timber is not the result of destructive or illegal logging. 

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international, non-government organisation dedicated to promoting responsible forest management. The tree-tick logo is the best guarantee that timber has been produced in an environmentally sound and socially responsible manner.

To gain the FSC stamp of approval, loggers and forestry owners must demonstrate that their activities comply with FSC regulations. These require that:

  • forests are logged in a responsible manner
  • free and informed consent of the traditional landowners is obtained
  • the rights of forest workers and forest communities are respected
  • endangered species and their habitats are conserved.

Re-used/recycled materials

Useful websites for sourcing re-used materials or those with recycled content:

  • The Waste Resources Action Programme  provide information on how to source more recycled content in construction products and how to ask for products with high recycled content.
  • The Building Materials Reuse Association is a non-profit educational and research organization whose mission is to facilitate building deconstruction and the reuse / recycling of recovered building materials.

Natural materials

Natural building materials offer many advantages over man made materials, can contribute to a building whose environmental impact is low and provides a healthier internal environment. Natural materials can be produced with minimal amounts of processing, so their carbon cost is also low. At the end of their life, there is less pollution associated with their disposal.

As an example sheepswool insulation rather than polystyrene can be produced locally, is completely renewable, allows the building fabric to breathe when used with other materials that allow moisture to pass through, and can be disposed without negative environmental impact.

Relevant policies

National policyPPS1: Delivering Sustainable DevelopmentSupplement to PPS1: Climate Change and Planning

Brighton & Hove Local PlanSU2: Efficiency of development in the use of energy, water and materials