Much attention has been focused on reducing the carbon impacts of building materials in the context of formal, regulated practices. However, most global building sectors have a high share of informal construction, with more than 60 per cent of countries lacking mandatory building energy codes; as such, more than 5 billion square metres have been built without regulated performance requirements (UNEP 2022).
Introducing and mandating performance-based building codes that address the performance of the building envelope and climate impact of building materials is essential. If enforced, building energy codes can be the most effective policy instrument for influencing energy use in both new construction and retrofits (IEA 2018b). Emerging economies that lack existing codes have an opportunity to avoid the restrictions of prescriptive building codes from the first wave of “environmental” building standards, which were largely based on “best practices” and were not always adaptable to local conditions and practices.
Adopt (or strengthen) building codes that encourage or mandate evidence-based and material performance-based requirements in design.
With the growing adoption of low-cost digitised tracking methods, as well as access to demand-side metrics such as energy and water use, performance-based building codes have a greater chance to connect to a range of stakeholders across sectors, from global architecture, engineering and construction companies to occupant/builders in informal settings. However, several key impediments need to be addressed for widespread inclusion of embodied carbon in building codes.
Mandate the transition from non-renewable materials to low-carbon bio-based renewables, hybrid, and recycled materials, wherever possible.
Build systems to collect data on operational energy costs and to create interactive platforms for users to track the energy costs of different material decisions.