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The Route to Low Embodied Carbon

18 Oct 2023
Sustainability Stage

The route to low embodied carbon in Higher Education science facilities
Georgeta Simona Peet, Project Director - Building Structures & Rebecca Mortimore, Director & Co-leads Ramboll Science Sector

The construction of new-build science facilities in the Higher Education sector continues to be a strong trend within the industry. The need for low and Net Zero Carbon buildings is as pertinent as ever to meet global challenges, but science buildings provide unique challenges due to their technical requirements. Our experience indicates that Higher Education science facilities, particularly complex laboratories, are typically more carbon intensive than other building types and currently are not specifically considered in best practice industry publications and guidance documentation.

With this in mind, this presentation will:

  • Take a deep dive into the industry-standard embodied carbon literature from RIBA, LETI, and the NHS, and look at the similarities with other building typologies such as commercial and healthcare buildings.
  • Showcase the findings from an embodied carbon benchmarking study based on Ramboll’s recent higher education and commercial laboratory projects, ultimately recommending a design embodied carbon target for laboratory buildings.
  • Discuss the key drivers of embodied carbon in Higher Education science buildings - for example, basement structures, structural grids, and the relationship between vibration and loading requirements, and finally,
  • Propose a route to a low carbon structural solution, including the use of design for manufacture and assembly solutions (DfMA).

Embodied Carbon in Building Design
Stephen Beggs, Director, Curtins

Carbon impact due to operational energy use is reducing, but we must also understand, measure and reduce the carbon embodied in the concrete, steel and timber of our buildings.

Over the last three years, Curtins has implemented a plan for embodied carbon reduction in our projects. We agreed a plan for achieving change, established tools for measuring the carbon in our designs, and a database to which we have uploaded our project carbon results.

Our presentation will outline the key steps towards carbon reduction, highlighting in particular the importance of setting clear goals to achieve change and, the value gained from our appointment of a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator from within our staff.

At the end of 2022 we reached the milestone of sufficient carbon data on our database to allow us to set embodied carbon targets for future projects, based on analysis of our work to date. The targets vary according to building type and sector, including education, and mark the direction for even lower carbon impact.

We are now ready to share this data with a wider audience, outlining the targets we have set, and how we intend to achieve these through further education of staff, the use of good practice examples across our business, and using carbon as a ‘currency’ for discussions with clients. We are also working with several industry bodies to include embodied carbon in legislation, so that the speed of change can increase across the industry.

We will also share our experience working on some of the first Department of Education projects to meet the principals of their net zero carbon schools.

Finally, we will illustrate how to combine embodied and operational carbon data, to allow informed, quantified debate on whether to retain or demolish existing buildings on a education estate when planning redevelopment.


Andrew Dutton, Sector Leader, Education - Arcadis
Georgeta Simona Peet, Project Director - Building Structures - Ramboll
Stephen Beggs, Technical Director - Curtins
Rebecca Mortimore, Director & Co-leads Ramboll Science Sector - Ramboll UK



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