Building under construction with crane, on top of blueprints, mortgage applications and energy rating

Timing is (almost) everything. The decisions made during the earliest phases of a construction project will define the emissions of a building for its lifetime.

Early design optimization is critical as opportunities to decarbonize decrease by roughly 50% as a typical project progresses through each of its stages. From a cost perspective, the earliest stages also offer the greatest potential for embodied carbon reductions at the lowest cost.

Carbon reduction potential decreases with each project stage / Credit: One Click LCA
Carbon reduction potential decreases with each project stage / Credit: One Click LCA

Why materials matter

According to the International Energy Agency, the manufacture of construction materials is responsible for around 10% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Architects, designers, and engineers can reduce impact by limiting the use of carbon-intensive materials or specifying low-carbon or recycled alternatives, or even setting carbon performance requirements for specific products. In all these cases early intervention is key, as the chances to substantially revise designs, set robust targets, and choose different, but better products reduce as a project progresses.

Establishing a carbon baseline is the first step to getting the right approach for a project. The baseline calculates the building’s carbon footprint without any reductions, laying the groundwork for a carbon budget.. From there, carbon hotspots and reduction opportunities can be identified.

However, during the early project stages, building professionals often lack detailed design data, making it difficult to set a baseline. Fortunately, technology is making it possible to calculate a building’s carbon footprint earlier and easier than ever before.

Early assessments made easy

Carbon Designer 3D is a new tool from life-cycle assessment specialists One Click LCA. It makes carbon assessments possible based only on the size and type of building.

Using data from One Click LCA’s extensive construction database, the tool allows you to calculate your design’s baseline emissions, analyze the impact hotspots, and identify improvement opportunities. The project team can then consider design alternatives, ensuring that carbon-informed choices drive decision-making.

Visualizing the carbon impact of different design options /  Credit: One Click LCA
Visualizing the carbon impact of different design options / Credit: One Click LCA

We are just eight years away from the World Green Building Council’s goal of achieving a 40% embodied carbon reduction in all construction projects by 2030 in order to limit the global average temperature rise well below 2ºC.

Architects, designers, and engineers have a major role to play in ensuring that we meet that challenge. Allowing embodied carbon insights to guide design decisions from the start of every project is part of the radical shift in approach needed to do so.

Learn more about embodied carbon reduction and how One Click LCA helps designers, builders, and manufacturers reduce their impact.


  1. International Energy Agency (2021), Tracking Buildings 2021, IEA, Paris
  2. World Green Building Council (2019), Bringing embodied carbon upfront 2019. WorldGBC, London