In simple terms, we can think of embodied Carbon as, ‘The Carbon Footprint of a material’ whereas Carbon footprint relates to the ‘operational footprint’ which is the energy used to run a process, heat, and light a building, or the Carbon emissions produced when driving your car.
Carbon Footprint versus Embodied Carbon
Carbon footprint is a term we have become very familiar with in recent years. However, understanding and taking the Carbon life-cycle into account will help drive change in future designs, where all Carbon emissions are considered. Whether you are designing an EV car, passenger plane, or the next medical device, critical design thinking focussed on the whole Carbon life-cycle is certainly the right path to help reduce waste, drive the circular economy forward and halt climate change.
Embodied Carbon figures can be much higher than Carbon footprint, accounting for between 20-50% of the total life energy used. What is also important to understand is that is unlike operational Carbon emissions, where emission reduction is possible with efficiency improvements, embodied Carbon cannot be reversed? So, reducing our dependence and usage of material extracted from the earth is vital.
Embodied Carbon assessment looks at the entire Carbon emission content from cradle to grave. The material being used, the extraction process, transportation, and the final processing methods used to create the final product. What is also important to consider is the potential benefits offered by certain material choices. Materials that aid insulation for example, or light-weighting materials that help reduce energy consumption. Materials that extend product life or enable repair, recycle and reuse, all help to reduce overall energy usage and emissions.
The diagram below helps explain more about embodied Carbon and the Carbon life-cycle when applied to construction.
Image courtesy of the Circular Ecology
Call to Action
The first call to action must be to just use less and waste less.
Repair, reuse and repurpose are exactly what the circular economy strives for and what we should all follow when making decisions, whether it’s for personal or business consumption.
If you are interested in learning more, both the EllenMacarthur Foundation and Circular Ecology are a fantastic source of info and include an Inventory of Carbon and Energy Database which can be consulted when making material selections.
Specifically relating to plastics, check out the report from Plastics Europe which encourages both policymakers and designers to consider not just renewable raw materials, but to consider the ‘life-cycle thinking’ approach.
At Midas, to help mitigate the embodied Carbon within our polyurethane moulding and associated tooling, we have two strategies:
- To work with our Clients to help them reduce material in their mouldings.
- Partnered with a local afforestation program - The Forest of Martson Vale.
Our work with our Customers will help us reduce the immediate Carbon impact, whilst our partnership with the Forest of the Marston Vale enables Midas to offset Carbon emissions and remain a net-zero emitter of Carbon. Our work may also benefit our Customers Carbon emissions.
'Thinking Globally and Acting Locally’
The Forest of Marston Vale (FoMV), an area covering 61 square miles around the Bedford region, has ambitious aims to increase tree coverage from just 3% up to 30%. In a densely populated area, this will provide much-needed habitat for local wildlife whilst providing a space of relaxation for all its visitors. Currently, the FoMV team is making fantastic progress with around 16% tree coverage but there is still a lot of work to do.
An additional 5 million trees need to be funded, planted, and maintained to hit their target and as part of our agreement, a further 500 trees can be planted and managed alongside future investments in PUI’s which overtime, will mature into trees that can also help absorb harmful CO2 emissions.
Image Courtesy of The Forest of Marston Vale
Our policy of ‘Thinking Globally and Acting Locally’ has driven our partnership with the FoMV. Whilst we could look further afield to the Gold Standards which help develop and support various Carbon mitigation projects around the world, it made sense to support local efforts. To help improve the environment, where we live and work so everyone can visit and benefit from the woodland trails and improved natural environment.