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Why It’s Time to Factor-In the True Costs of High Carbon Construction

Why isn’t every new building in the UK being completed to the highest standards of energy efficiency, with net zero levels of embodied carbon? The simple answer is that it’s cheaper (and more profitable) not to.

Why is it cheaper? Simply because carbon emissions and the fossil fuel industry are effectively subsidised. According to the IMF, the global fossil fuel industry is effectively subsidised to the tune of $11m every minute.

Some of the subsidy is in the form of tax breaks and direct financial benefits designed to reduce fuel prices. Much of it is in the reality that somebody else will pick up the tab for the ill health and catastrophic weather events caused by air pollution and global warming.

Accounting for Embodied Carbon

These subsidies pass through into energy-intensive construction materials such as concrete and steel. The true cost of the high levels of embodied carbon in these materials won’t appear anywhere in the project budget.

Similarly, if a new building isn’t well insulated or airtight the cost will be borne by the occupier over many years through higher heating bills. And until the time when all of the UK’s energy comes from renewables, that extra energy consumption comes with an added carbon cost.

Costs Drive Behaviour Change

Behaviour is driven by economics. Which means that if you want to achieve a long-term change in behaviour you need an honest long-term approach to economics and carbon accounting.

Perhaps carbon in construction should be assigned a monetary value in the procurement process. The real costs that result from choices made concerning construction methods and materials would then be quantified. Perhaps it’s also time to start talking about an embodied carbon tax.

Without making this simple but fundamental shift to monetise carbon emissions can we honestly talk about low carbon construction or a net zero carbon built environment by 2050?

Profound and urgent change is needed in how we build. Monetising carbon emissions using tools like the embodied carbon calculator developed by Innovaré would be the single most powerful driver of change imaginable. It’s time to look at the true costs of high carbon construction.

If you want to understand and reduce the carbon impact of either new buildings or retrofit programmes visit our resource centre. Or contact (enquiries@innovaresystems.co.uk) for more information.

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