Public, private stakeholders pen global standard for embodied carbon

More than 20 states, corporations and non-governmental organizations teamed to develop “Sector Supplement for Measuring and Accounting for Embodied Emissions in the Built Environment,” a document set to carry the WRI protocol mark.

The World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. has granted preliminary approval of the “Sector Supplement for Measuring and Accounting for Embodied Emissions in the Built Environment” as the document is in process of attaining the Built on GHG Protocol Mark. Once finalized, the Supplement will be available at

Concrete, steel, glass, wood and flooring materials have an impact that is described as the “embodied carbon.” Managing the way buildings are built with that metric in mind is a highly effective strategy for decarbonizing the built environment, WRI contends. Traditional decarbonization strategies in the built environment focused only on energy efficiency and operational carbon reduction. While still important, WRI notes, the success of the building industry in reducing energy use (i.e. operational carbon) has led to the spotlight being turned to embodied carbon.

Brightworks Sustainability of Portland, Ore. and WAP Sustainability of Chattanooga, Tenn. began working with a coalition of embodied carbon leaders in late 2019 called the Total Carbon Coalition. The challenge was connecting embodied carbon opportunities with corporate carbon accounting practices. Most organizations with significant real estate holdings were not measuring and accounting for the “purchased goods” associated with their buildings. “We noticed that embodied carbon impacts were missing in most corporate GHG accounting and quickly realized that significant percentages of emissions were not being accounted for. Digging deeper we realized the challenge was how to account for those emissions,” says WAP Sustainability Managing Director William Paddock. 

The accounting insight led to discussions with clients on how to use the WRI’s GHG Protocols to account for embodied carbon emissions, along with the realization that there was some ambiguity in the process. The Brightworks and WAP teams approached their own clients and WRI to determine the best path forward, which was to write the Sector Supplement for Measuring and Accounting for Embodied Emissions in the Built Environment using WRI’s Built on GHG Process. The outcome is a comprehensive approach that aligns with the principles of the GHG Protocol.

WRI Director of Private Sector Climate Mitigation Cynthia Cummis worked with the WAP and Brightworks team on the revisions of the method, noting, “The Built on GHG Protocol mark provides validation that WAP’s guidance is in conformance with GHG Protocol standards. We are excited about the opportunities this resource provides to scale up GHG accounting and management across the built environment value chain. Embodied emissions in buildings present a significant opportunity for emissions reductions, and we hope this guidance provides the clarity needed for the sector to take more ambitious action.”

“Empowering consistent Embodied Carbon Accounting is just the beginning,” adds Brightworks Sustainability Project Manager Jeff Frost. “We need to align this approach with embodied carbon approaches in green building standards like LEED, and drive awareness within the investment community through additional work with SASB and PRI. And finally, we hope to play a role in the development of a sector decarbonization approach within the Science-Based Target initiative.”

“The USGBC is all-in on embodied carbon and we applaud the work of these leaders in developing a more standardized way of accounting for the full carbon impacts of green buildings,” affirms U.S. Green Building Council Director of LEED Wes Sullens. “We see this Methodology as a critical stepping-stone for more meaningful embodied carbon accountability and commitments, especially as a complement to aggressive energy conservation and renewable energy strategies found in LEED.”