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Section 2: Early carbon optimization

Tools that help you with early carbon optimisation

Challenges while performing early carbon assessments

The main challenge when we want to perform an LCA at the early design stage is the lack of information, whether this is the material specifications, quantities, or even the specific material impact information. 

Since the goal of an early stage LCA is to obtain a general overview of the anticipated carbon emissions, it can be acceptable to use previous projects’ information and extrapolate accordingly. However, such a methodological approach would entail dangers because it makes it difficult to assess multiple design options (i.e., the quantities required for a concrete frame are not the same when assessing timber frames, etc).

Listed below are some potential tools to help you overcome these challenges.

Create baseline

Carbon designer

Carbon designer is an early design tool that allows you to get a Bill of materials (BOM) without needing a design. It is a shoebox analysis model but useful for the early design stage.


  • Early Design Tool
  • Uses local average data
  • Obtain BOM without needing a design
  • Minimal amount of information required
  • Perform cost vs carbon analyses


  • Create baselines with minimum data such as GFA, country/region, building type, and number of floors
  • Allows for optional choices such as underground floors, soil conditions, structural solutions etc
  • Templates allow you to reuse your baselines in any number of projects quickly and easily
  • Quick and easy visual comparison by rapidly making variants by changing between pre-defined building structures or relevant material choices
  • As only very limited background information is needed to start, the tool can be used already in early design stages and target setting but it can also support detailed options and creation
  •  The modelled building can also be saved to any of our LCA calculation tools
Fig 1. Visualization of hotspots in the early design stage using One Click LCA Carbon designer

Typical workflow

  1. Enter basic information (size, ref building, service life)
  2. Select your building type
  3. Define the scope of the analysis (select the building parts you want to work with)
  4. Choose your baseline structural frame (concrete, steel, timber, etc)
  5. Review and calculate the final geometry
  6. Review and amend material quantities
  7. Review your first results
Our article on Implementing Embodied Carbon at The Early Design Stages will help you get started with Carbon Designer 3D.

BIM tools

Rhino and grasshopper integrations

One Click LCA has developed integrations with Rhino and Grasshopper to help design teams implement carbon assessments from the earliest stages. The Rhino integration is designed to allow users to directly assign materials to the drawn layers and eventually get a result for their project. This allows design teams to quickly identify where the carbon hotspots might be located in the final design and tackle them from early on.

Fig 2. BIM tools for early carbon optimization
Grasshopper is a visual programming editor that works as a plug-in for the 3D modelling software Rhinoceros. You can define algorithms in Grasshopper to automate tasks in Rhino. You can for instance use Grasshopper to automatically generate a building geometry based on some fundamental parameters such as width, height or column spacing. Such geometric automatizations open up new possibilities for life-cycle assessments. Now you can use these generated 3D models to automatically extract the material quantities for your LCA.

Grasshopper’s intent is to not only allow users to understand early impacts but assist them in redefining the solution altogether. As mentioned earlier, the parametric nature of grasshopper, coupled with the fact that it allows for iterative design.

Fig 2. Iteratively optimizing your design using parametric tools


See in real-time how changing your parameters affect your project’s embodied carbon.

Typical workflow

  1. Set up your initial script
  2. Choose the materials you want to use
  3. Run and LCA within grasshopper
  4. See in real-time how changing your parameters affect your projects embodied carbon

Combine grasshopper and carbon designer to develop full-scale buildings 

Early design in GH (only column, walls), you can add this to OCL and using CD you can fill in the gaps and have a full building LCA done

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Understanding the construction materials

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Early carbon optimization

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