The Path to Net Zero

“Net Zero” is the current buzz word throughout the construction industry, and as such the ‘embodied carbon’ or ‘recycled content’ within new construction products is under scrutiny, with the perception that those manufactured with lower embodied carbon, or greater quantities of recycled content, are more sustainable. Yet a better understanding of the full picture is essential when choosing products.

The market is looking for a quick win, a ‘silver bullet’ to differentiate products, and for developers and contractors to emphasise their commitment to the environmental agenda with easy-to-communicate metrics. This leads to a risk of materials being compared on the basis of recycled content or embodied carbon alone (A1-A5 of the EPD), with little to no consideration given to the full Life-Cyle Assessment of the product, its guaranteed life, maintenance or end of life benefits when it comes to de-construction and recycling.

Take steel as an example, arguably the worlds most recycled material. Despite end-of-life recycling rates >90%, the demand for steel outstrips the volumes available from scrap, meaning average recycled steel content within new steel is typically <50%. This demonstrates that recycled content taken in isolation is not an appropriate metric.

To understand the environmental impact of a building product it is essential to consider end of life recycling (modules C and D of product EPD’s), which are not addressed by the production stage (module A) alone. Both the manufacturing inputs and the end-of-life recycling rate are required to understand the full Life-Cycle Assessment of a product, incentivise greater circularity and eliminate ‘greenwash’.

In summary, simply comparing ‘cradle to gate’ life cycle analysis is insufficient and could yield incorrect conclusions. It is essential to consider whole life factors including how to reclaim the embodied carbon at end of product life.

Everyone has to contribute if we as an industry and as a society are going to achieve Net Zero. How to measure our achievements is a critical part. Don’t just consider recycled content, and when analysing embodied carbon don’t just consider module A. Do consider the whole life cycle.

Share this article

Login to post comments

About us

Future Constructor & Architect is a specification platform for architects and building contractors, which focuses on top-end domestic and commercial developments.

As well as timely industry comment and legislation updates, the magazine covers recent projects and reviews the latest sustainable building products on the market. Subscribe here.

Privacy policy

Latest updates


Sign up below to receive monthly construction, architecture and product updates from FC&A via email: