Embodied Carbon Interiors.
By Helen Gordon.
When you make a purchase from a mass market brand, the products may appear to be good value but what is the true cost of this purchase? Prior to the product leaving the showroom or shop, it may have already travelled thousands of miles, changed hands and changed costs multiple times. Products are produced with such low margins, so much so that their design is driven by economics with no consideration as to the environmental impact the product has and therefore its very own carbon footprint.
Our whole ecosystem and wellbeing are threatened by our consumption rates, the toxic substances and materials we use in the built environment, the waste that is created, the working conditions that may occur to produce our materials.
Over the last decade there has been significant change within the building industry in terms of green building practices and standards.
However, in 2020 the construction sector still accounted for 38% of total global energy related C02 emissions and over 50% of the worlds waste so we have a long way to still go.
In order to reach net-zero, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that direct building CO2 emissions need to fall by 50% by 2030, which equates to around 6% per year.
What is embodied carbon?
Many of us are familiar with the term “carbon footprint” but perhaps not “embodied carbon”. According to Circular Ecology, whilst a carbon footprint can be used to express the carbon of operating a building, operating a laptop or running a car, embodied carbon will tell you the carbon footprint of constructing the building or manufacturing the laptop. Embodied carbon calculations therefore require an understanding of all of the materials or ingredients within the products and all activities related to those materials such as processing and transport. So embodied carbon is the carbon footprint of a material. It considers how many greenhouse gases are released throughout the supply chain and is often measured from cradle to (factory) gate or cradle to site (of use) (i.e., the emissions associated with manufacturing products, transporting materials, and constructing buildings).
As buildings have become more energy efficient in their operations, there is now more attention being paid to embodied carbon. A Life Cycle Assessment was introduced in 1992 to assess the environmental impacts caused by products during their life cycle. For example, it is estimated that in a commercial building the space is refurbished every 7 to 20 years. If you add up together all the cumulative embodied carbon of each interior renovation, they actually surpass the emissions of both structure and envelope.
So it is crucial to focus on how to reduce your carbon footprint just by the amount of times you refurbish your property and by the types of products/materials used.
To get a true picture of a building’s energy and carbon emissions impact it is necessary to understand not only the operational and the embodied emissions on their own, but also the interrelationship between them. Whole life carbon (WLC) thinking therefore means considering these emissions together so as to optimise their relative and combined impacts rather than assessing each in isolation. A low carbon building is one that optimises the use of resources both to build it and to use it over its lifetime.
Furniture is a product used in every area of daily life and directly affects the quality of human life. There has been a rising demand for furniture as the population has increased and the standard of life has risen. We spend over 90% of our time inside, so it’s important that we design our spaces, and interior products to ensure increased health, to stimulate creativity, comfort, wellness, and encourage positive behaviour.
When calculating carbon the furniture in the interiors have been largely overlooked. In order to calculate carbon more accurately in the built environment moving forward, as well as calculating both the operating carbon and embodied carbon of the building the furniture’s embodied carbon also needs to be included.
According to Hayrettin Meric in “Ecology of Interior: Embodied Carbon of Housing” May 2020, among all sections of the house, the kitchen contributes the most to the weight and embodied carbon values of the house. The embodied carbon value of wood-based board products such as MDF and particleboard, which are frequently used in furniture production is higher than solid wood. One of the main reasons is due to the glue (mainly based on the formaldehyde) in the production of these board materials, as well as various chemicals used to protect against moisture, fire and microorganisms and another reason is the extensive production stages of MDF, from raw material to final product. Meric’s research found that carbon emissions are lower in transport and lower when furniture products used in the house are made from solid wood. Instead of frequently changing the furniture products used in the dwelling, we should use it for a long time by doing maintenance and repairs and should use locally soured timber wherever possible.
First Eco-Kitchen for The Springfield Meadow Development.
To address this, and go beyond what normal house developers are offering, we have collaborated with Greencore Construction and Ssassy property to push the boundaries further towards achieving positive carbon house development, helping to keep toxins low, and improve air quality,
By designing and building our first eco-kitchen for one of their Passive House properties on their Springfield Meadow estate, using 75% sustainable materials, we have designed a contemporary kitchen that is environmentally and sustainably better for you and the planet.
Following Kite’s renewable, traceable and re-usable guiding principles, including using recycled/ upcycled and natural materials and manufacturing locally, all will contribute to reducing our carbon footprint, helping keep toxins low and improving air quality.
Also using a glue less construction will limit formaldehyde and will make it modular, allowing repurposing.
Embodied carbon is a complex subject, and we realise we have a long way to go to achieving zero carbon in furniture but by designing and creating this kitchen, we now have a much better understanding and knowledge of what we have to do to get there.
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