“A Whole life Approach to Decarbonization: Towards Zero Operational and Embodied Carbon”
Urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts is accelerating but is still insufficient. Despite the gloomy outlook, there is hope the projected losses can be avoided if the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the built environment are rapidly limited. To prevent exceeding this threshold, it is essential to implement high performance building design that meets and exceeds the required energy use targets and reduce embodied carbon of buildings by utilizing carbon sink and low carbon materials and products.
With a projected population growth of 32% in the next 30 years, the ultimate goal is to ensure a decarbonized built environment through carbon-negative construction and a holistic design approach towards zero operational and embodied carbon. We are in a climate emergency; every ton of concrete we use today forms emissions in the atmosphere. With informed decisions about the embodied carbon impact of material including extraction, transport and assembly, we can change our current climate trajectory.
The fundamental strategies to address operational carbon include a lean, clean, green design that begins with a strong passive design strategy, optimizes thermal performing envelope, minimizes the need for active systems, and integrates renewable energy generation and carbon offsets. Whilst solar photovoltaic (PV) system augments significant embodied carbon initially, the total carbon is significantly reduced by using PV system versus not using PV due to the operational carbon savings. Moreover, ongoing monitoring of operational energy consumption and renewable production is necessary to understand a building’s carbon emissions and maintain reduction targets.
Realistically, as building energy efficiency increases and power supply decarbonizes, operational energy generation will drop and the impact of embodied carbon emissions in building materials becomes increasingly significant. Reducing the impact of embodied energy requires critically appraising existing building stock through repurposing, refurbishing and extending the building life. Variation in embodied carbon intensity between building typologies makes setting a target for the embodied component of whole life net zero challenging.
Fundamentally, net zero carbon targets are achieved through building less by means of space utilization and adaptation, using smart materials with minimum embodied carbon, prioritizing durable material and material that sequesters carbon and minimizing waste generation. Common material substitution for significant embodied carbon reduction includes lower carbon concrete such as polarized ash, Cemex concrete, ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), low global warming potential insulation like wood fiber insulation, and low global warming potential concrete sealant.
We must implement Whole Building Life Cycle assessment for all projects at early design stages and capitalize on a consistent and transparent carbon intensity and benchmark data and adopt explicit targets for net zero. Future policies should provide accurate guidelines for required life cycle phases, objects of assessment, material quantity data sources, and treatment of carbon sequestration as applicable.
Ghina Annan is a Sustainability specialist, mechanical engineer with more than 11 years of experience in the development of high-performance building design. She is passionate about cities and the built environment, leading teams to achieve effective sustainability outcomes while identifying and implementing adequate strategies to achieve Net Zero Energy, Water, Waste and Carbon while following regulations, codes, standards and safety. She plays a vital role driving innovations and sustainable transformations by contributing to the development and delivery of National and International projects, standards, guidelines, and Strategies in MENA region. As a leading sustainability specialist, she has a highly successful track record of identifying solutions that balance environmental, economic, social, and cultural issues, all driven towards carbon neutrality and net zero, making her a true change maker. Her work includes Madinah Convention Centre, Kudai Towers, Madinah Hajj City, Lusail Residential Tower, EXPO 2023, Lusail Katara Hotels, Al Maktoum International, Madinah Convention Centre, Madinah Hajj City, Qatar EXPO 2023: Consultancy Services for Buildings within Al Bidda Park, Bloom District & Villas and a manifold iconic project.
She is En-ROADS Climate Ambassador, Fitwel ambassador and a climate leader. She is TRUE Advisor, Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP), EDGE (Excellence in Design for greater Efficiencies) Expert, EcoDistricts Accredited professional; a Well Accredited professional (AP), LEED Accredited professional (AP) in building design and construction, Certified Energy Manager (CEM), GSAS Certified Green Professional (CGP), Certified Energy Professional (GSAS-CEP), Pearl Qualified Professional (PQP) and Home Performance Index (HPI) Assessor.
Ghina’s contribution to the first chapter on global climate change to appear in the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook (2021) comes within her long-term and highly impactful involvement in the Technical Committee on Global Climate Change and her work will surely support designers and building operators to ensure robust operation for decades to come. Currently, she is a member ASHRAE’s Task Force for Building Decarbonization (TFBD) – Embodied Carbon contributing to the development of a framework and roadmap for life cycle analysis and embodied carbon including guidelines, reference portals, training and education, special publications, benchmarking metrics, etc. Her work focuses on determining a holistic methodology to quantify how material processes from cradle to grave affect climate change, non-renewable resources and the environment.
She is a board member in the Association of Energy Engineers – Lebanon Chapter (AEE) and the Council on Women in Energy & Environmental Leadership (CWEEL), were she optimizes the media platform enticing people to actively engage in various programs including trainings, workshops and other outreach activities, while also contributing to online internship initiatives as a mentor and educating students on whole life carbon and the path to zero carbon.
Ghina is also nominated to mentor and share her expertise with 21 startups in the Energy Innovation Hub, a UNDP (CEDRO) initiative co-funded by the European Union and in partnership with Nucleus Ventures, launched in support of Lebanon’s Clean Energy Transition.