Whole life carbon and industrial renovation: realising the opportunities to reduce the lifecycle carbon footprint of buildings

This paper provides recommendations for policymakers aiming to create an optimal policy framework to reduce emissions from buildings while fostering innovation in the renovation sector.  

To reach the European climate targets set out in the Fit for 55 package and Renovation Wave, carbon emissions must be cut by 55% compared to 1990 levels. Building construction and operations are responsible for 36% of carbon emissions in the EU. The latest European Commission proposal therefore aims to achieve a 60% emission reduction by 2030 for the building sector, compared to 2015 levels. Significant building improvements and renovations will need to occur to realise this ambitious goal. 

While several conventional measures exist for building renovations, innovative solutions are needed to meet climate targets. Industrial prefabrication has the potential to substantially increase the renovation rate, and decrease energy use and emissions. Industrial prefabrication for renovation is the process of producing integrated renovation solutions, such as roof or façade systems, in factories to reduce construction time on-site. To realise the full potential of industrial prefabrication and accelerate the decarbonisation of the building stock, it is important to make use of levers that push industrial prefab solutions and the reduction of whole-life carbon emissions at the same time.  

Whole-life carbon considerations and industrial prefabrication are mutually reinforcing in numerous ways. Five promising opportunities to leverage both the whole-life carbon impact of renovation and industrial prefabricated renovation solutions are:  

  1. Innovation in design  
  1. Resource efficiency (transport, streamlined delivery processes, low carbon materials and elimination of waste)  
  1. Quality assurance  
  1. Lifecycle costing  
  1. Circular business models.  

This paper focuses on these opportunities and provides recommendations for policymakers aiming to create an optimal policy framework to reduce emissions from buildings while fostering innovation in the renovation sector.  

The report concludes with recommendations to increase the uptake of industrial prefabrication and foster whole-life carbon reduction strategies: 

  • Digital solutions are key to innovation in the building sector, in particular to enable industrial prefabrication and to design and implement renovations with lower whole-life carbon impact. Supporting the interoperability and use of digital tools like building information modelling, lifecycle analysis software and digital building logbooks will increase transparency and ease of communication and storage of environmental data. 
  • The Energy Performance of Building Directive should emphasise whole-life carbon measures, including by linking the zero-energy building definition to whole-life carbon, defining whole-life carbon integration milestones towards 2050, and linking minimum energy performance standards to whole-life carbon. 
  • The Construction Products Regulation should align 2050 targets by fostering improved quality of environmental data for construction products in the EU and mandate the use of environmental product declarations. 
  • The EU and Member States should provide targeted funding, subsidies and tax breaks for industrial prefabrication of renovation solutions that account for whole-life carbon. 
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