Developing Material Selection Strategies to Improve the Embodied Impacts of Buildings

  • Natasha Watson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Engineering (EngD)


The embodied environmental and socioeconomic impacts of building construction are rarely considered within industry. Renewable and certified resources will continue to provide a viable low impact supply chain for construction, yet the use of such low impact building materials (LIBM) remains a small proportion of the current market. Structural engineers should be encouraged to use LIBM and consider the impacts of building construction, and so the research aim was to create an informed and responsible approach for structural engineers to reduce the embodied impacts of their projects.The limited amount of academic literature on the consideration of embodied impacts within construction and the use of LIBM prompted a two-phase research methodology. The first Problem Exploration phase developed a rich understanding of the current context of embodied impacts within construction through an analysis of data gathered from an online questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. The findings identified three key aspects to consider when developing an Embodied Impact Reduction Approach (EIRA); the alignment of the project-life cycle with influence, the limitation of time and costs, and the importance of support and education within the approach created. The second Action phase developed EIRA using the findings and supplementary data gathered from focus groups, which highlighted that EIRA should be flexible so as to be relevant to the breadth of projects that BuroHappold Engineering, who partially sponsored the research, work on.EIRA runs parallel to the RIBA Plan of Work, adapting to the different objectives, level of detail and information available at each project stage. Three components were developed; the Material Design Sheets, Carbon Calculator, and the Option Appraisal Support Technique (tOAST). tOAST was implemented on five projects to test its applicability, which identified that greater understanding of embodied impacts plus their relative importance to each other is required. Another key issue was the availability of appropriate embodied environmental data.
Date of Award22 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsBuro Happold
SupervisorPete Walker (Supervisor)


  • Low carbon construction
  • Sustainable material

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