Embodied carbon greenwashing?

Reducing #embodiedcarbon in buildings will require rigorous reporting, transparent data, and comprehensive life cycle analysis ( #LCA ). Has architecture firm Perkins&Will has gone too far with claims? Fred A. Bernstein argues so.

Biogenic carbon reporting is nuanced and challenging to interpret. We at the CLF continue to work to clarify methods to analyze and communicate potential benefits of stored carbon in biogenic materials.


I’m really glad Fred wrote this piece. In the sustainability world (certainly not just with buildings), I see a sort of toxic positivity where people and firms tend to milk everything they can out of accomplishments while ignoring shortcomings and areas that demand attention. Highlight the good, don’t mention the bad (which is often inaction). In the building industry (and elsewhere), we’re certainly not where we need to be in addressing the climate crisis so I’d love to see more honest reports and narratives where firms and organizations are more transparent in what more needs to be done, because there is A LOT that needs to be done.

It’s important to celebrate victories, but honest and transparent reflection is much more valuable than ignorant celebration.

This blog post was posted in the comments, it is a great read too https://www.thomsonarchitecture.ca/2020/08/13/embodied-carbon-i-do-not-love-you/

I think sometimes (often?) with these claims it’s a case of the marketing team latching onto something and not appreciating the nuances of carbon accounting. Until we can develop truly carbon negative building materials the maths just isn’t going to work. With abundant renewable energy I think it might be possible, but until then reusing existing building stock as much as possible is the clear winner. I can still dream of my straw bale house using locally sourced clay render though.

Yep, very likely coming from the marketing team and I agree building reuse is the clear winner with very few exceptions. So with that in mind, firms highlighting their efforts should be transparent about what could have been done better (use an existing building, improved LCI data sets and quantity takeoffs, novel biogenic carbon accounting methods, more efficient use of material, and the other items listed by Bernstein in the article). To me, that’s a lot more helpful because it avoids complacency and helps readers understand this isn’t the end of the road; we have a long way to go.

We should save this kind of excitement for when your straw bale house with locally sourced clay becomes a reality, because that’s definitely something to celebrate!

A rather interesting read and a enlightening viewpoint on what can replanting mean to the forests. What matters is not how quickly a tree can grow, but how much carbon it contains at maturity, and how long that carbon resides in the ecosystem https://theconversation.com/there-arent-enough-trees-in-the-world-to-offset-societys-carbon-emissions-and-there-never-will-be-158181

Excellent comment, Deepshi. Welcome to the community!

Thanks - great article, though a minor quibble with the assertion that old trees reach a point where they no longer absorb carbon, this paper demonstrates that for most trees they continuously accumulate and store carbon as they age: Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size | Nature

@will.nash thankyou this is an interesting read.

This more recent study is also useful: Does individual-tree biomass growth increase continuously with tree size? - ScienceDirect

I should correct my previous statement, the correlation is between tree size and carbon accumulation, which does not necessarily mean that there is a correlation between tree age and carbon accumulation.

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What an excellent article and a joy to read. Thanks Will