ecobuild logo

 06-08 March 2018 / ExCeL, London


Wednesday 31 August
Effective lifecycle analysis of buildings means looking carefully at choice of materials Whole-life performance is a term that has traditionally referred to the total cost of building ownership, but has more recently grown to include broader sustainability issues, particularly embodied CO2. A recent tweet by @circularecology got me thinking; as our focus increasingly turns to the circular economy and we learn more about lifecycle analysis, will we just add more to the “embodied” box or can we broaden our thinking to fully consider whole-life issues at a level where the interaction between materials, structures and services are fully considered? If so, will we achieve the holy grail of sustainability assessment? Now, I don’t know the answer to these questions. But at The Concrete Centre we have invested considerable effort in understanding and communicating the holistic outcomes of concrete and masonry construction and how whole-life thinking helps inform choice. To assist this process during the early design stage, we have published a guide entitled Whole-Life Carbon and Buildings, which sets out the specific qualities of concrete construction that can be capitalised on to minimise the CO2 footprint. We know that this is just one measure, so at the same time we have published Material Efficiency, to provide guidance on how better to achieve resource efficiency and waste minimisation from production through to construction including reuse and end-of-life. The focus of the Whole-Life Carbon and Buildings guide is the means by which concrete can be used to minimise CO2 emissions, both directly and through broader indirect design opportunities that the use of concrete often affords. These include: • Lean building design – using concrete for multiple roles, enabling other materials to be designed out, particularly finishes • Operational energy - using the thermal mass provided by concrete to lower operational emissions, while also saving energy and improving comfort • Reuse and adaptability – reducing whole-life CO2 through the ability to reuse concrete structures • End of life – the absorption of CO2 into concrete through the natural process of carbonation Soon, the use of Environmental Product Declarations in conjunction with increasingly sophisticated whole-life design tools will allow a more detailed lifecycle analysis to be carried out at the building level, and will help reinforce the whole-life design virtues outlined here. In this sense, the new guides help bridge the current information gap in terms of what we broadly know now and what forthcoming life-cycle analysis tools will be able to validate more accurately in the near future. Our Material Efficiency guide tackles the environmental impact of construction that arises from the use of resources – principally energy, water and materials. The phrase “doing more with less” is frequently used in the context of structural design solutions, but just as embodied CO2 does not represent the whole carbon footprint, material efficiency should not be considered too narrowly as it can influence multiple aspects of a building’s design and operation. If not considered holistically, opportunities for material efficiencies may be lost or misguided, for example, providing a slender structural solution that relies on a multitude of other resources to meet its full functional requirements. Another example is designing buildings tailored too closely to a single function - a bigger picture is required. In manufacture, concrete contains recycled materials and by-products from other industries, reducing the amount of virgin materials required and many manufacturers offer schemes to reduce waste on site by offering takeback of surplus products. This is covered in the guide along with suggestions for material efficiency using concrete and masonry at every stage of development, with varied opportunities to do more with less. This should help designers deliver material-efficient construction, whilst also ensuring the ongoing viability and usefulness of buildings. Both of these guides can be downloaded from We hope that they can be part of the debate on defining sustainability as a holistic, whole-life approach that encourages the use of materials that contribute to our long-term built environment on multiple levels. Guy Thompson, Head of Architecture, Housing and Sustainability, The Concrete Centre
View all Blogs & Insights

Strategic Partners