What's the difference between a carbon footprint and embodied carbon?
We are often asked what is the difference between a carbon footprint and embodied carbon. The most simple way to express the difference is with a basic definition of embodied carbon:
Embodied carbon is the carbon footprint of a material
Whilst a carbon footprint can be used to express the carbon of operating a building, running a car or operating a laptop, embodied carbon cannot. Embodied carbon would instead tell you the carbon footprint of constructing the building, producing the car or manufacturing the laptop. Embodied carbon calculations therefore require an understanding of all of the materials, or ingredients, within your products, and all activities related to those materials, such as processing and transport.
If an activity involves the physical treatment or physical handling of a material (note that products are made up of materials / ingredients) then it may counted towards embodied carbon. On the other hand, activities such as electricity used to power electronics, fuel consumption in a car, and the heating & lighting of a building are not considered embodied carbon, they are instead a carbon footprint.
The maintenance of a material or product is still covered by embodied carbon and this should be accounted for in the in-use phase of the life cycle. Likewise, the end of life treatment of a material or product would be counted towards the embodied carbon emissions in the final life cycle stage.
If you are interested in further understanding the difference between a carbon footprint and embodied carbon we recommended that you look at the Inventory of Carbon and Energy database, which is a free embodied energy and carbon database for materials.
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