Back to insights


Understanding Carbon in Our Buildings: A Quick Guide

Carbon is a buzzword in today’s environmental conversations, but it’s often misunderstood. Our built environment is a significant player in the carbon story, and it’s essential we all speak the same language when it comes to understanding its impact.


The Different Shades of Carbon


Carbon Footprint: This encompasses the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an entity—whether it’s an individual, organization, or building—accounting for both direct and indirect emissions.


Embodied Carbon: A critical factor in construction, embodied carbon covers the CO2 emissions from all materials and processes across a building’s life cycle—from extraction and manufacturing to construction and, eventually, demolition and disposal.


Biogenic Carbon: This is the natural exchange of carbon between the biosphere and atmosphere, such as the absorption of CO2 by plants and trees during photosynthesis.


Operational Carbon: The day-to-day emissions from heating, cooling, and lighting buildings contribute to a building’s operational carbon footprint, impacting its total carbon cost over time.


Avoided, Sequestered, and Offset Carbon: Strategies in these categories aim to reduce emissions, capture CO2 (in soil, plants, or the ocean), or balance emissions through projects like reforestation.


Measuring and Managing Carbon Emissions


Measuring carbon in terms of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) allows for a comprehensive assessment of a building’s environmental impact, incorporating all emitted greenhouse gases. Key methods include direct monitoring, life cycle assessments, and estimation models for indirect emissions.


The Path to Decarbonisation


Decarbonisation is crucial for sustainable development. It involves:

  • Implementing sustainable building practices.
  • Using energy-efficient materials and technologies.
  • Harnessing renewable energy.
  • Minimising energy consumption through smart design.
  • Reducing embodied carbon in construction materials.


Join the Conversation

Understanding and managing carbon is a collective effort. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Comment below, or download and share the slide deck on social media.


Click here to download

About the author

Understanding Carbon in Our Buildings: A Quick Guide

David Shaw

Director at Torridon | Chartered Quantity Surveyor

Cost consultancy expert specialising in commercial refurbishment and fit-out projects

Get in touch: