Whole Life Carbon Assessment 

23 April, 2024
Whole Life Carbon Assessment 2024

What is the Whole Life Carbon Assessment guidance? 

Whole Life Carbon Assessment

Credits: Ciaran Malik

With the growth of environmental consciousness over the past decade, prioritizing the environment has become more important. Whole Life Carbon (WLC) emissions are the carbon emissions of an establishment emitted during its lifetime including – materials, construction, operation, and demolition. Therefore, whole life carbon assessment.

The Whole Life Carbon assessment aligns with the Policy SI 2 F of the London Plan 2021. WLC assessment calculates the building’s overall impact with integrated analysis. It reflects the actual picture of the environmental impact of the building during the construction phase, operational period, and disposal phase. WLCA also provides credits in BREEAM and is designed to understand the sustainability of the product process. It involves the potential savings from the reuse and recycling of components after the building’s deconstruction. 

What is Whole Life Carbon?

We have written a whole blog on Whole Life Carbon. Therefore, here’s just a short explainer of what is WLC – Whole Life Carbon refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with a product, building, or system over its entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction to disposal or recycling. This assessment takes into account all stages of the lifecycle, including manufacturing, transportation, construction, use, maintenance, and end-of-life processes.

Table of Contents

Importance of Whole Life Carbon Assessment

Assessing carbon emissions throughout the entire lifecycle of a product or building is crucial for understanding its true environmental impact. By considering all stages of production, use, and disposal, it provides a holistic view of carbon emissions and identifies opportunities for emissions reduction and optimization. This comprehensive approach is essential for making informed decisions to mitigate climate change, promote sustainability, and achieve carbon reduction targets on a global scale.

Key Concepts of Whole Life Carbon Assessment

Scope and Boundaries

The scope and boundaries of carbon assessment define the extent to which emissions are accounted for and the system boundaries within which assessments are conducted. This includes both direct emissions (emissions directly associated with the activities of the assessed entity) and indirect emissions (emissions associated with activities outside the direct control of the assessed entity, such as those from purchased electricity or transportation). Establishing clear scope and boundaries is essential for ensuring consistency and comparability across assessments.


Common Terms and Metrics

Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with the production, transportation, and assembly of materials used in the construction of a product or building. It includes emissions from manufacturing processes, transportation of materials, and construction activities.


Operational Carbon

Operational carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with the ongoing use of a product or building, such as energy consumption for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances. It also includes emissions from maintenance activities, such as repairs and replacements.


Embodied Energy

Embodied energy refers to the total energy consumed throughout the lifecycle of a product or building, including energy used in raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, and disposal/recycling. It provides insight into the energy intensity of materials and processes used in a project.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment is a systematic analysis methodology used to quantify the environmental impacts of a product, process, or service throughout its entire lifecycle. It considers various environmental indicators, including carbon emissions, energy consumption, water use, and resource depletion, to assess the overall sustainability of a project.


Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration refers to the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, typically through natural processes such as plant photosynthesis, soil carbon storage, or engineered solutions like carbon capture and storage (CCS). It plays a vital role in offsetting carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.


Carbon Neutrality

Carbon neutrality, also known as net-zero carbon emissions, is achieved when the net carbon emissions associated with a product, building, or organization are balanced or offset by equivalent carbon removal or reduction measures. It represents a state where carbon emissions are effectively neutralized, resulting in no net contribution to atmospheric CO2 concentrations.


Carbon Footprint Analysis

Carbon footprint analysis quantifies the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with a specific product, service, or activity over its entire lifecycle. It provides a measure of environmental impact and helps identify opportunities for emissions reduction and mitigation.


Carbon Offset

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for carbon emissions by investing in projects or activities that reduce or remove an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Common carbon offset projects include reforestation, renewable energy development, energy efficiency improvements, and carbon capture and storage initiatives.


Social Cost of Carbon (SCC)

The social cost of carbon represents the economic value associated with the damages caused by carbon emissions, including climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and ecosystem disruptions. It provides a monetary estimate of the societal costs imposed by carbon emissions and is used in the cost-benefit analysis of climate policies and projects.

Methods and Tools for Whole Life Carbon Assessment

  1. Methodologies for Assessing Carbon Emissions: WLC assessment relies on various methodologies to quantify carbon emissions across the lifecycle of products or buildings. Common approaches include Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), and Carbon Accounting Standards. Each methodology offers unique insights into carbon impacts and allows businesses to tailor assessments to their specific needs and objectives.
  2. Tools and Software for Conducting Assessments: A wide range of tools and software are available to facilitate Whole Life Carbon assessments. These include dedicated LCA software such as SimaPro, GaBi, and OpenLCA. These tools streamline data collection, analysis, and reporting processes. Additionally, building information modelling (BIM) software like Autodesk Revit and Trimble SketchUp enables integrated carbon assessment for construction projects, incorporating building design and material data into the assessment process.
  3. Best Practices for Data Collection, Analysis, and Interpretation: Effective data collection is fundamental to accurate carbon assessment. Businesses should gather comprehensive data on material inputs, energy consumption, transportation, and waste management across the entire lifecycle. Robust data analysis techniques, such as attributional and consequential LCA, help identify carbon hotspots and prioritize mitigation strategies. Interpretation of assessment results should consider uncertainties, assumptions, and sensitivity analysis to ensure reliable decision-making.
Cradle to Gate Embodied Carbon. Credits: Ciaran Malik

Credits: Ciaran Malik

Pre-requisite for designing a WLC assessment 

  1. Enlisting all the major possible sources of emissions is significant in achieving the net zero target. 
  2. To fulfil the primary assessment, the design team must generate massing models and spaces of many options under the reference. These models are developed to provide information that should be considered as illustrative rather than fully developed proposals. 
  3. There needs to be an assessment of the conceptual feasibility of every option. 


Scope this standard assessment 

This assessment helps to look into all elements and component categories, resonating to every stage in the life cycle – from extracting raw materials and manufacturing construction elements, through operations, to discharging and revival of the materials. 

The WLC includes timing and frequency, along with context. The assessment also includes practical guidance and guidelines for measuring carbon and reporting the outcome are also provided. 



The documents need to cover three main areas – 

  1. Aims, benefits, and goals
  2. Methodology and processes 
  3. Context and information 

Designers need to look not just into low-carbon materials but also design holistically towards low-carbon solutions. This plan should be executed on-site, following the specifications and suggestions without error or deviation. 

The introduction of the whole life carbon assessment will help to encourage the right mindset, in construction and design that are based practically, with a collaborative approach to reducing the company’s carbon emissions. 


Methodology and framework 

A series of standards that are recognised needs to be followed across the industry. 

  • EN 15978
  • EN15804
  • RICS Professional Statement on whole life carbon assessment for the built environment

Professional institutions like RIBA, IStructE, and CIBSE are recently trying to understand and utilize these codes and standards. Industry groups like CLC are looking into the same initiatives and providing guidance. 

The legalization of this assessment is in alignment with the standards set for the construction sector. 


Process and Key Considerations 

The whole life carbon assessment helps to identify the most feasible opportunity for reducing the lifetime carbon emissions impacts and unnecessary consequences from wrong approaches or methods. 

At the initial stage, all WLCAs have a modular structure to break down the asset life cycle into stages and modules. 

Life Cycle Stage A

It covers all carbon emissions and removals from any activities necessary to complete the construction. 

  • Non-physical activities like surveys and designing. 
  • Extraction, transportation, and manufacturing to produce construction assets 
  • Transportation of construction processes


Life Cycle Stage B

It covers all carbon emissions and removals that happen in the course of using the assets. 


Life Cycle Stage C

It covers all ‘end-of-life” impact processes 


Life Cycle Stage D

Other additional activities that are beyond the life cycle. 


The process of WCLA is executed in the following key steps – 

  1. Concept design: Initially, during the pre-construction phase, it is essential to make important forecasts for designing the project baseline. This also sets standards for carbon reporting and progress tracking. 
  2. Technical design: At this stage, there is an evaluation of the evolving design. 
  3. Construction phase: The forecast is reviewed and the design is implemented and monitored for construction variations. 
  4. Post-completion phase: The carbon reduction is predicted and forecasts are expected to be achieved. 

The WLCA should be executed sequentially, with the designed framework precisely implemented practically. 

Whole Life Carbon Assessment Template

You can download the WLC Assessment Template from here

It is strongly recommended that all applicants utilize the WLC benchmarks as a guiding framework. These benchmarks, instead of providing a rigid set value, offer a range and are systematically segmented based on various building components. In instances where a project registers higher WLC emissions than the established benchmarks, a comprehensive examination is encouraged to identify strategies for reducing WLC emissions.

The WLC assessment template has been designed to accommodate such variations. Applicants are provided with dedicated space within the template to articulate and elucidate the reasons behind any deviations from the established benchmarks. This not only ensures transparency in the assessment process but also allows for a detailed exploration of the factors influencing WLC emissions in a specific project.

By utilizing this template effectively, applicants can provide a comprehensive overview of the project’s WLC considerations, offering insights into the decision-making process regarding materials, construction methods, and overall sustainability. In doing so, the assessment becomes a valuable tool not only for compliance but also for fostering a deeper understanding of the environmental impact associated with the project.


In conclusion, whole life carbon assessment is a vital tool in the fight against climate change and the pursuit of sustainability. By evaluating carbon emissions throughout the entire lifecycle of products and buildings, organizations can gain valuable insights into their environmental impact and identify opportunities for improvement.


What is whole life carbon assessment?

Whole life carbon assessment evaluates the total carbon emissions associated with a product, building, or system throughout its entire lifecycle, from raw material extraction to disposal.


Why is whole life carbon assessment important for businesses?

Whole life carbon assessment helps businesses understand their environmental impact comprehensively, enabling informed decision-making, cost savings, and enhanced sustainability credentials.


How does whole life carbon assessment differ from other carbon assessment methods?

Unlike other methods that focus on specific stages of a product’s life, whole life carbon assessment considers carbon emissions across the entire lifecycle, providing a holistic view of environmental impact.


What are the key benefits of conducting whole life carbon assessment?

Conducting whole life carbon assessment allows businesses to identify emission hotspots, prioritize mitigation efforts, reduce costs, enhance brand reputation, and contribute to global sustainability goals.


How can organisations get started with whole life carbon assessment?

Organizations can start by collecting data on material inputs, energy consumption, and waste generation throughout the lifecycle, utilizing specialized software and consulting experts for guidance.


What are the main challenges associated with conducting whole life carbon assessment?

Challenges include data availability, accuracy, cost considerations, stakeholder engagement, and the complexity of supply chains, which require careful planning and collaboration to address effectively.


How often should whole life carbon assessments be conducted?

The frequency of assessments depends on factors such as business operations, industry regulations, and sustainability goals, with many organizations conducting assessments periodically or in response to significant changes.


What role does stakeholder engagement play in whole life carbon assessment?

Stakeholder engagement is crucial for data collection, buy-in, and collaboration, ensuring the success and credibility of carbon assessment initiatives across the supply chain.


How does whole life carbon assessment contribute to corporate sustainability goals?

Whole life carbon assessment aligns with corporate sustainability goals by quantifying environmental impact, driving emissions reduction strategies, and demonstrating commitment to sustainable practices.


Are there any regulatory requirements or standards for conducting whole life carbon assessment?

Regulatory requirements and standards vary by region and industry, with organizations encouraged to adhere to established frameworks such as ISO 14040/44 and industry-specific guidelines.


What is the WLC assessment London Plan?

The WLC (Whole Life Carbon) assessment is a key component of the London Plan. The London Plan is a strategic framework for the city’s development, requiring new developments to assess and minimize carbon emissions throughout their lifecycle.


How is carbon intensity calculated?

Carbon intensity is calculated by dividing the total carbon emissions of a product, building, or process by a relevant metric such as revenue, square footage, or product output, providing a measure of carbon efficiency.

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