Five ways concrete is creating lower-carbon buildings

The long-term performance of concrete as a building material means that it can contribute to reducing the carbon emissions of the built environment.

Looking at a material’s embodied carbon – the CO2 produced during its production – is only the first step towards understanding its carbon credentials.

It’s equally important to assess the ‘whole-life’ environmental performance of materials across a project’s lifetime, rather than only during construction, to help make informed decisions about the choice of building materials.

The strong environmental performance of concrete buildings over their long lifetimes can offset the impact of their construction through superior energy efficiency and reduced maintenance requirements.  

Whole-life analysis can lead to better decision-making by taking into account carbon impacts from the sourcing of raw materials through to design, building use and end-of-life demolition and recycling.

Here are five ways you may not realise that concrete is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across a building’s whole lifecycle:

  1. Durability: concrete’s strength and robustness mean buildings constructed with the material can last for hundreds of years and have minimal maintenance needs, resulting in reduced carbon and financial costs.
  2. Energy efficiency: concrete buildings are able to significantly cut energy use and lower emissions through their excellent thermal mass properties.  This means they are able to absorb, store and release heat slowly – resulting in buildings with more stable temperatures that stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  3. Adaptability: concrete framed buildings have long life spans and can be easily remodelled and repurposed for alternative uses – resulting in a reduced environmental impact compared to demolishing and rebuilding.
  4. Flexibility: concrete has the ability to fulfil many different roles in building design – providing structural, aesthetic and thermal elements.  This often results in other buildings materials such as plasterboard or additional fire protection not being needed.  
  5. Carbonation: concrete naturally absorbs carbon in the atmosphere throughout its lifetime.  This process increases at the end of its lifecycle when concrete is crushed for recycling, meaning up to a third of its original embodied CO2 can be absorbed.

Image courtesy of Nicholas Hare Architects ©Alan Williams