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Efficiency first

By Pauline Pelous
September 24, 2019

Energy efficiency must always take first place when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, says our Director of Sustainability, Vincent Briard.

Vincent was speaking on the occasion of World Green Building Week which runs from September 23 to 29 and takes as its key themes the importance of creating a healthy, climate-resilient built environment #BuildingLife with a focus on reducing embodied carbon emissions.

Buildings are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions globally and the sustainable building debate has put the issue of embodied carbon — carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle — in the spotlight. 

Vincent says: “In a building constructed a decade ago, for example, operational carbon (emissions from heating and cooling) would account for 75% while embodied carbon from construction and materials accounts for 25%”.

‘We must not lose sight of building performance’

“We understand the need to tackle embodied carbon emissions on a global scale. However, we must — first and foremost — focus on energy performance and that means creating a more resilient building envelope.

“Installing insulation, double glazing and a more efficient boiler adds embodied carbon to a building. Over the course of their lifetime, and depending on their application and location, the impact of these elements on reducing emissions will be many hundreds of times higher than the embodied carbon generated during their creation.”

Knauf Insulation has an in-depth understanding of embodied carbon and has always made it a key priority. Most of our products come with Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations which transparently identify their environmental impact from the cradle to the grave.

And, of course, we are also looking at ways to be more sustainable in our own production processes. Since 2010 we have reduced our CO2 emissions by over 20% across the company and we are reducing the environmental impact of our products.

We already produce a wide range of solutions with low embodied carbon such as our Glass Mineral Wool with ECOSE Technology which is created from up to 80% recycled glass. And our commitment to progressively move to ECOSE Technology our Rock Mineral Wool ranges will lower the environmental impact of these products as well.

‘Getting the decarbonisation sequence right’

However, as a starting point, we have always called for an energy efficiency first approach to buildings while working with European policy makers in the context of the European Union’s vision of a 2050 carbon neutral built environment and Paris Climate Agreement commitments that are underpinned by revised building directives.

The World Green Building Council published a position paper this week calling for all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations to have at least 40% less embodied carbon and all new buildings to be net zero operational carbon, by 2030. And by 2050, new buildings, infrastructure and renovations are to have net zero embodied carbon, and all buildings, including existing buildings, must be net zero operational carbon.

“Knauf Insulation supports this ambitious plan, but we absolutely need to get the sequence right,” says Vincent.

“First, we must tackle the biggest carbon source which is operational energy. This means reducing demand through high performing building envelopes, selecting the right set of equipment and control systems, then using renewable energy.

“At the same time, through an iterative process, we should consider embodied carbon already in the design phase of the building. This means the right building solutions and products with low environmental footprint. By applying such a method, we are pushing forward circular economy and completely in line with the principle of Level(s), the EU Commission sustainable building assessment tool.

This week is World Green Building Week an annual campaign initiated by the World Green Building Council to raise awareness of sustainable buildings as one of the most effective means to tackle climate change, create sustainable, thriving communities and drive economic growth.

This year World Green Building Week is focusing on #BuildingLife and exploring how we can create a green, healthy and climate resilient built environment for all.