Why do school estates need to take a whole life carbon approach to their sustainability strategy?

Posted: April 5, 2022

Following decades of rising concerns about carbon emissions, the solution now seems clear: ‘Net-Zero Whole Life Carbon Road Map’ by 2050 for the built environment.

We are entering a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change. This is because it is now undeniable that we are living through the results of the climate crisis and that without changing our way of life, it would be impossible to achieve the 2050 target set by the UK government. Now the question is, how do school estates fit into this picture and what changes need to be made to our school estates?

From the lesser-known carbon emissions — often overshadowed by discussion around operational carbon emissions, which remains a paramount issue to discuss — embodied carbon was one of the topics brought to light at the global climate summit COP26, on the ‘Built Environment Day’. The rising discussion around embodied carbon highlights the significant impact of built emissions on our climate goals; to reduce carbon emissions and become net-zero by 2050. 

In line with this, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) launched their ‘Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap’ during the Built Environment Day at COP26. It states that by 2050 new buildings will need to be built to be net-zero for operational carbon emissions and that a mass retrofit programme is needed for older buildings. It also sets out proposed statutory and regulatory changes to reduce embodied emissions that are needed for the UK to reach the goal of Net Zero by 2050.

As outlined in the WGBC’s carbon roadmap, embodied emissions cannot be completely removed or reduced, unlike operational carbon. It is because of this reason that we must track embodied carbon in buildings to ensure these emissions do not exceed the UK’s carbon budget and that we can offset these emissions in other ways.

This brings us back to the question, how do schools work towards Net Zero by 2050 and where do the estates fit into this?

A great place to start is understanding the carbon impact of your buildings, not only operationally but the embodied carbon element too. Only by having accurate data on the true carbon footprint of your school can you start to work towards net zero.



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