The whole-life carbon emissions footprint has developed as an important eco-indicator for
the built environment quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a building. It
collates and communicates ‘carbon’ emissions arising across its lifecycle including in the
management of the project, in the manufacture and supply of materials, construction and
commissioning of a building, arising from energy consumption during the use phase, from
maintenance / renovation; and from end of life activities. Increasingly, whole-life carbon is
being used as an evaluation metric for building energy retrofit projects, estimating the net
climate impact of intervention options.
However whole-life carbon studies are not without weaknesses, lack of standardisation
means that they are rarely comparable. Additionally, they are often weakened by unclear
assumptions; arbitrary boundary setting; variable data quality; indifference to temporal
issues; and poor communication of results.
This paper examines current whole life carbon footprinting practice, drawing on a number of
examples to critique and explore an improved use of this metric. It concludes that a
standardized methodology is important in furthering the utility of whole-life carbon
determination. But moreover discusses how the value of the whole-life carbon metric lies
beyond the mere quantification of CO2-eq as a single datum. Rather its real value lies in the
contextualization and exploration of results including: critiquing the process; conducting a
sensitivity analysis with respect to key assumptions, datasets, etc.; presenting different
scenarios while above all communicating potential shortcomings in knowledge.