Shedding light onembodied emissions in the construction sector

In a new project, the Toni Piëch Foundation is supporting in the development of comprehensive key figures to quantify and illustrate total carbon emissions of buildings over their whole life cycle (called 'Whole Life Carbon'), including embodied emissions and circularity. The aim is to make these indicators easily accessible and comparable for building owners and architects using existing Swiss best-practice platforms.

Why? Both the construction as well as the operation of buildings and infrastructure are major contributors to climate change. For many years, the operational impact and energy efficiency countermeasures have been in the focus of policy, planners, architects and the industry. At the same time, the impact of past construction until today is often overlooked. These so-called embodied emissions are generated during the production, processing and transport of building materials, as well as during the maintenance of a building, such as the servicing of technical equipment or renovation work, and finally during demolition of the building.

As we strive for a low-carbon future, the problem is that both emission types concern the same thing over a building’s whole life cycle: carbon emissions. And both types are very connected of each other. For example, when more insulation layers are added on the walls during construction, the more (embodied) emissions are upfront “invested” upfront to lower the buildings heating (operational) emissions during the many years of occupancy. Whether this trade-off, the investment in upfront building materials to lower long-term operational emissions, is good or bad for the climate is complex. It depends on many factors such as which material is used and what the heating system is, but also uncertainties such as the length of the actual building lifetime and the level of decarbonization of the energy supply. So while there is a very wide range of complexity behind making the right choice, and many factors can only be approached by assumptions beforehand, approaching optimal, climate-friendly design decisions always starts with whole-life carbon thinking. And that is what this project is raising awareness for among builders and architects.

Key figures about a building’s CO2 emissions and its circularity can ultimately help reduce the carbon footprint.


The Toni Piëch Foundation is convinced that the development of key figures providing a comprehensive statement of a building’s CO₂ emissions and its circularity can ultimately help reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment. This is why it the foundation is supporting the initiative to develop and publish indicators and best practice examples.

How? The project focuses on the conception and visualization of these comparable key figures to sensitize architects and building owners for greenhouse gas emissions and the circularity of their construction designs. The figures are to be published on a new platform or in existing web portals such as “aus alt mach neu” for energy-efficient building renovation as well as in specialist publications such as “Hochparterre” or “TEC21”. The platform is being prepared in collaboration with Effienergie, which, as the operator of the “aus alt mach neu” platform, has the necessary experience.

The project hopes to impact the reduction of the CO₂ emissions in the Swiss building stock. It also seeks to contribute to achieving the goals of the Energy Strategy 2050+ and to implementing the Federal Act on Climate Protection Targets, Innovation and Strengthening Energy Security.

The Toni Piëch Foundation is funding the project with CHF 25,000.