How can material specification help achieve net zero targets?


Amber Luscombe was invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of Building Magazine’s Net Zero Live event on the 12th May, ‘How can material specification help achieve net zero targets?

As an Architect and WELL expert, Amber provided a fresh take on the benefits of low carbon materials. Maintaining a sharp focus on wellbeing, she argued that what is best for the planet is invariably best for people and business.

Amber began with key facts on the impact that materials specification has alone – 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from the extraction, transportation and manufacturing of materials in the built environment[1]. And whilst operational carbon currently accounts for 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with expected grid decarbonisation combined with more efficient systems and renewables it is expected that the impact material emissions have will proportionally increase.

We therefore need to act now to ensure we are doing everything we can to lower the embodied carbon of the materials specified, to get to zero as fast as possible. Providing practical solutions and strategies, Amber expanded on the importance that Architects have to play in prioritising the following:

Build Well + Build Local + Build Wise + Build Circular + Build Natural
  1. Build less

The very first question should always be can we reuse, can we retrofit? And at the micro scale we should be harnessing the power of BIM and other technologies to design efficiently and reduce material use and site waste.

  1. Build local

Always source materials as local as possible to reduce the transport emissions.

  1. Build wise

Use modularity and offsite construction to improve efficiency of design and reduce waste. Design for disassembly so that buildings can be modified easily with reduced or no demolition – long life, loose fit.

  1. Build circular

High recycled content in as much material as possible from structural steel to floor tiles; ensure that the materials used can be disassembled and recycled at end of life – cradle to cradle thinking.

  1. Build natural

Less processing generally means less embodied carbon used in the manufacturing while using more natural materials can increase the chances of recycling at end of life. Using natural materials where possible has further benefits in the wellbeing and health of people.

To build on point 5, Amber said we must remember people in this discussion – people make up to 90% of a typical business’s operating costs[1]. Therefore, we should be designing with materials that provide healthy internal environments and reduce the overall embodied carbon.


This was reiterated through the various studies and facts that Amber presented on the panel, most significantly that when a Harvard study[2] tested two office environments, one with average indoor air quality and one with above average indoor air quality (by reducing the VOC levels), there was a reported 61% increase in cognitive function. So by reducing the processed materials and VOCs in a space, both people and businesses can reap the benefits.

Amber summed up the 10-minute presentation by reiterating the challenges that Architects and the built environment need to embrace, to reduce the embodied carbon content of the materials we specify to get to absolute zero.



This webinar was chaired by Building Magazine’s Thomas Lane, with panellists Suria Jones of Lendlease; Jack Brunton of Aecom and Amber Luscombe of Morrow + Lorraine.

You can view the webinar by registering here.


[1] World GBC ‘Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront’ 2019

[2] World GBC ‘Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices’ 2014

[3] Harvard T.H. CHAN School of Public Health ‘ Green office environments linked with higher cognitive function scores’ 2015