Building design: a whole-carbon approach

To promote further understanding of how carbon should be minimised during a building’s lifetime, CIBSE co-hosted sessions at Futurebuild on embodied and operational carbon. Julie Godefroy outlines key outcomes

Guidance on reducing embodied and operational carbon

CIBSE advocates reducing total carbon emissions, including operational and embodied carbon. While our focus has been on operational carbon because of its predominance in the built environment and the core expertise of our members, we believe both matter and published CIBSE TM56 in 2014, as a guide to resource efficiency in building services.

Operational carbon needs continued attention to improve the existing stock and avoid creating buildings that lock us into a high carbon future. Pitting it against embodied carbon is unhelpful, so CIBSE organised two sessions at Futurebuild, in collaboration with the Edge, to focus on ‘no regret’ solutions and key opportunities.

The expert speakers came up with a range of recommendations and advice on cutting carbon:

  • The structure and foundations typically represent most of the initial embodied carbon, usually from concrete and steel. Small improvements here can dwarf savings elsewhere.
  • Low operational energy buildings tend to have an efficient shape that reduces heat losses. This also reduces embodied carbon through savings in materials for the envelope, and possibly for the structure and foundations.
  • Reducing peak loads helps cut operational carbon, and embodied carbon through reduced equipment size. This will become increasingly important for grid management. Neither peak loads nor building shape are accounted for in Part L, but this may change.
  • Reducing construction waste can offer significant embodied-carbon savings, and have other environmental, financial and societal benefits.
  • Embodied and whole-life assessments can become substantial exercises; when this is not possible, designers can focus on a few real design options to identify improvements. Assessments also rely on many assumptions, from the lifetime of a building to the embodied carbon of materials and products. While some guidance – such as from RICS – is available, the answer will often be project-specific and should be discussed with the client. For example, finding the balance between incorporating future flexibility and avoiding over-engineering. Engineers can also help address the lack of building services data by asking suppliers for Environmental Product Declarations.
  • There will be a range of implications beyond carbon; for example, high fabric performance can bring comfort benefits as well as operational carbon reductions.

Health and wellbeing in BSERT – call for papers

The Building Services Engineering Research and Technology (BSERT) journal is planning a special issue on health and wellbeing in January 2020, and is calling for research papers from academia, or from practitioners collaborating with academia.

The following themes are of particular interest:

  • Assessing the impact of the built environment on health and wellbeing, so that best practice can be rewarded through the regulatory framework or other incentives
  • It is sometimes said that ‘your facilities manager is more important for your health than your GP’. If this is the case, how can we help FM teams deliver good indoor environments? What are the responsibilities and opportunities for designers?
  • Engaging with users on the health agenda: what is the right balance of information, automation and user control? How can we effectively communicate sometimes conflicting messages, such as the impacts of opening windows on noise, air quality and thermal comfort?   
  • Interactions between outdoor and indoor environments
  • Designing for vulnerable population groups, including people with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly and the young
  • Methodologies and equipment for monitoring environmental conditions and their impact on health and wellbeing outcomes
  • Ventilation for energy efficiency, air quality and thermal comfort
  • Innovations in air quality – for example, gaseous filters, building materials and the impact of plants
  • Delivering both environmental and health and wellbeing performance – case studies, synergies and potential conflicts.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to by 30 April 2019. More details on the call for papers are available here.

CIBSE is looking to expand its guidance on the topic, including: case studies on reducing embodied carbon from building services – from reducing peak load and plant size to avoiding plant altogether or reducing backup plant provision; and design approaches and procurement models that facilitate repair and repurposing.

  • Thank you to our speakers at Futurebuild: Kirsten Henson (KLH Sustainability), Thomas Lefevre (Etude), Simon Sturgis (Targeting Zero), Clara Bagenal-George (Elementa), Mike Medas (Aecom / University of Reading), and Gareth Selby (Architype).
  • If you would like to contribute, get in touch at
  • Julie Godefroy is technical manager at CIBSE