The embodied carbon of a building’s services can contribute a significant amount to the carbon footprint of a building. This is estimated to be approximately 15% of a typical commercial building’s embodied carbon. However, the reality may be much higher…
Building services equipment, pipes, ducts and cables are all traditionally made from carbon intensive materials, with metals and electronic components having far higher carbon emissions than more natural materials such as stone or timber. This equipment is also replaced 2-3 times throughout a building’s life and therefore maintenance, replacement, and other emissions such as refrigerant leakage, can massively increase the contribution of services equipment to a building’s whole life carbon footprint.
This is why the recent inclusion of a TM65 calculation into the GLA whole life carbon calculation process is a welcome addition to the London planning process. The TM65 calculation sets out the methodology to measure and record the embodied carbon associated with a building services product. This will help drive the necessary industry change we need in order to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of construction in line with the UKGBC Roadmap to Net Zero.
The challenge now is that the building services industry has been woefully slow at rising to the seriousness of this challenge. What we have is a severe shortage of information available to support carrying out a calculation of this type for a complete building services design. So, despite the excellent research and work CIBSE and LETI have done to develop the methodology behind the TM65 , much more work is needed to improve the reliability and validity of the results to ensure that these calculations are fit for purpose.
The accuracy of a TM65 calculation relies heavily on 2 pieces of information, which are lacking across a wide range of building services systems.
- Information on the embodied carbon of building services products:
a. Either environmental product declarations (EPDs)
b. Or CIBSE TM65 Manufacturer Forms
- Detailed design information about services designs including:
a. Number, size and weight of plant, products and equipment.
b. Detailed size and dimensions of services pipe, duct and cable distribution networks
c. Type, charge and leakage rate of refrigerant based systems.
There are good reasons for this. Historically, the focus has been on reducing operational energy and carbon, as in the past this has been the single largest contributor to a buildings carbon footprint. However, as the electrification of building’s becomes standard practice and the grid decarbonises, embodied carbon has become increasingly more important, and we must account for this in any carbon assessment and reporting. Building services designs are also complex, often including hundreds (and often thousands) of different products, which makes detailing out each component at the concept or design stages difficult. The supply chains for the manufacture of these products are also highly complex, with products (often with multiple subcomponents) being manufactured from factories all over the world. This increases the cost of undertaking life cycle assessments, environmental product declarations and CIBSE TM65 forms for manufacturers already battling with material shortages increased labour costs and supply chain issues.
How are we helping?
Just because it is difficult does not mean that it’s not worth doing. We are continuously striving to improve client outcomes and are leading on a number of core initiatives:
- We have included embodied carbon for building services, facades and structures in the scope of our measurements, towards honouring our pledge to halve the carbon footprint of our designs and advice by 2030.
- We are updating our design specifications to include the requirement for embodied carbon information, (TM65 forms and EPDS) and have signed up to Steel Zero and Concrete Zero initiatives.
- We have developed our own in house TM65 carbon calculation tool to enable embodied carbon calculations at every stage in the design process and are integrating this into our BIM workflow and digital design toolkits.
- We have undertaken a rigorous staff training program on embodied carbon so that building design practitioners at WSP are aware of the significance (and key pitfalls) of measuring embodied carbon in buildings and specifically for building services.
How can you help?
We are always on the hunt for more information, and if you have EPD information or TM65 forms for any services products, or any questions on the topic please get in touch through [email protected]
We actively encourage everyone to participate in this industry wide effort to gather information, by also supporting CIBSE in their drive to collect embodied carbon data, and anyone with information should also email [email protected] for more details.