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Whole life carbon takes a holistic view of the carbon emissions associated with a building, considering its entire lifecycle from design and construction to use and eventual demolition. This approach is becoming increasingly important in the fight against climate change and the pursuit of sustainable energy solutions.


Whole life carbon (WLC) is a comprehensive assessment of the carbon emissions related to a building or infrastructure project over the course of its entire lifecycle. This includes the carbon emitted during the extraction and processing of materials, the construction phase, the operational phase, and the end-of-life phase. The consideration of WLC is becoming increasingly important in efforts to mitigate climate change and move towards more sustainable energy solutions.

Decarbonisation of Buildings

With the increasing urgency of climate change, there is a growing focus on the decarbonisation of buildings. The European Union, for example, has set out commitments to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with its climate goals. This involves tackling emissions associated with the operation of buildings, as well as the embodied emissions linked to the production, construction, renovation, and deconstruction of buildings and the materials used in these processes.

Whole life carbon assessments are integral to these decarbonisation efforts. By providing a thorough understanding of a building’s carbon footprint, they can guide the development of targeted strategies to reduce emissions.

The Importance of Whole Life Carbon Assessments

Until recently, most efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the building sector have focused on operational emissions – those associated with heating, cooling, and powering buildings. However, the embodied emissions related to the manufacture and transport of building materials, construction activities, and end-of-life processes are also significant and can account for a large proportion of a building’s total carbon footprint.

Whole life carbon assessments provide a more complete picture of a building’s carbon footprint, covering both operational and embodied emissions. This holistic approach allows for more effective carbon reduction strategies, addressing all phases of a building’s life cycle.

The Role of Whole Life Carbon in Building Sector Transformation

As we move towards a net zero carbon future, whole life carbon assessments are playing a crucial role in transforming the building sector. They provide the necessary data to inform the development of carbon reduction strategies, supporting the transition to more sustainable building practices.

In addition, whole life carbon assessments can guide policy development. For instance, they can inform the setting of carbon reduction targets for the building sector, the development of carbon pricing mechanisms, and the implementation of regulations and standards to drive down emissions.

Reducing Whole Life Carbon: Strategies and Solutions

There are a variety of strategies and solutions that can be employed to reduce whole life carbon in the building sector. These include:

  • Sustainable design: Incorporating sustainability considerations into the design process can significantly reduce a building’s whole life carbon. This might involve orienting the building to make the most of natural light and heat, selecting low-carbon materials, and designing for flexibility and adaptability to extend the building’s lifespan.
  • Energy-efficient operation: Reducing the energy consumed by a building during its operational phase can have a significant impact on its whole life carbon. This can be achieved through energy-efficient appliances and systems, good insulation, and the use of renewable energy sources.
  • Material efficiency: Using materials more efficiently can reduce the embodied emissions associated with the production, transport, and disposal of these materials. This might involve using less material, reusing or recycling materials, and selecting materials with lower embodied carbon.
  • End-of-life management: Considering the end-of-life phase during the design and construction stages can help to minimise the carbon emissions associated with demolition and disposal. For example, designing for deconstruction can facilitate the reuse or recycling of materials.

Public Consultation: EU Roadmap for Reducing Whole Life Carbon

The European Commission is currently developing a roadmap for reducing whole life carbon in the building sector. This roadmap will provide an overview of the importance of life cycle thinking in addressing building emissions and set out the need for targeted building-related measures to reduce these emissions.

As part of this process, the European Commission is inviting interested parties to share their views through a public consultation. This consultation will inform the development of the roadmap, ensuring that it is grounded in the realities of the building sector and reflects a wide range of perspectives.


Whole life carbon assessments are critical for understanding the full carbon impact of buildings and for guiding efforts to reduce this impact. By considering both operational and embodied emissions, these assessments provide a more complete picture of a building’s carbon footprint and pave the way for more effective carbon reduction strategies. As we face the challenges of climate change and the need for sustainable energy solutions, the importance of whole life carbon is set to grow.