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RESEARCH

CARBON FOOTPRINT LIMITS FOR COMMON
BUILDING TYPES

Original research conducted by One Click LCA on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment, Finland.

Some Finnish buildings could cut their carbon footprints by as much as 43% – according to research we conducted for the Finnish government – and almost all could make a saving of 28% using easily available decarbonisation strategies.

How do you set realistic decarbonisation targets for buildings? That’s what the Finnish Ministry of the Environment asked us recently. Our report is available to download here and on the Finnish government website, we’ve summarised our key findings for you below.

We established a baseline or reference carbon footprint for five standard Finnish building types: apartment, school, service, office and commercial. Taking into account average energy consumption and construction materials carbon impacts.

We collected and analysed 482 actual Finnish project construction materials carbon footprints. Most of these projects were residential, school or office buildings. A further 3748 energy certificates for new buildings built since 2018 were analysed to establish average energy consumption per targeted building type. This provided a solid statistical basis for the average construction materials and energy carbon footprints for buildings.

Tulokset Residential Office Service School Commercial
PRIOR TO USE
A1-A3 Product manufacture 282 259 282 255 215
A4 Transportation to site 10,2 10,2 10,2 10,2 10,2
A5 Construction 27,3 27,3 27,3 27,3 27,3
DURING USE
B3 Repairs 2,16 2,16 2,16 2,16 2,16
B4 Replacements 98 81 77 79 69
B6 Operational energy use 321 273 601 347 330
AFTER USE
C1-C4 Disposal 33,6 33,6 33,6 33,6 33,6
CARBON FOOTPRINT 774 686 1032 754 686
CARBON HANDPRINT -169 -143 -165 -142 -112
We then looked at the main decarbonisation scenarios available on the market today – including energy efficiency solutions and choosing lower impact materials.

  • Using a ground source heat pump for the entire heat and cooling supply
  • Achieving energy class A
  • Using low-carbon concrete
  • Using a stud frame timber structure
  • Using CLT (cross laminated timber) structure

We discovered that with these measures in place, every building type could achieve a carbon footprint reduction of up to 28 % compared to the reference building level.

This project considered a number of sensitivity analysis scenarios, some of which could be imposed on certain projects based on local zoning regulations. These included brick cladding, cast-in-place concrete, balconies and other scenarios. The zoning-dependent scenarios considered increased the relevant building carbon footprint by 6-13 %, depending on the building type, and all scenarios increased the results by 11-22 %.

Note that we did not include foundations or parking scenarios in the scope of the assessment as their requirements vary very strongly based on the site, so these scenarios can only be considered indicative. The impact of unfavourable foundation and parking scenarios was an increase of between 12 and 20 % in the building carbon footprint, but the impact of low carbon concrete as a decarbonisation measure is much higher if the foundations are included.

Parameter Residential Office Service School Commercial
Maximum decarbonisation identified 36 % 30 % 43 % 34 % 28 %
Low-carbon concrete & ground heat pump 28 % 20 % 36 % 27 % 19 %
Low-carbon concrete & A energy class 18 % 18 % 13 % 22 %

This report only looked at a limited number of  decarbonisation measures : but there are many more available. One effective measure would be sourcing low carbon products for all categories, not just concrete. Materials-efficient design and materials-use optimisation provide further potential for cost and carbon reductions.

We concluded that a 20-30 % decarbonisation target would be an achievable yet meaningful goal. Allowing every building type to use the right materials and energy solutions for their needs, whilst making much-needed carbon reductions.

Read the full report on the Finnish Ministry of the Environment website. NB. The report is written for a subject matter expert audience and so does not include introduction or definitions

This report was prepared by One Click LCA on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment, Finland, to support the development of carbon footprint limit values for buildings – referred to in this report as building carbon footprints. This report is written for a subject matter expert audience and does not include introduction or definitions. Opinions and recommendations are those of the authors.

Download the report

Available in English

About One Click LCA

One Click LCA Ltd (formerly known as Bionova Ltd) is the developer of the One Click LCA, the world-leading construction life-cycle metrics software.

One Click LCA supports over 60 systems identified in The Embodied Carbon Review. One Click LCA also conducts selective leading-edge research in built environment sustainability, in particular for embodied carbon, and life cycle assessment.

Our mission is to help designers bring sustainable buildings and business within everyone’s reach. Discover guides and high-impact research ja opi lisää.

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