Embodied carbon debate

The Savills Blog

London’s embodied carbon debate rumbles on

Landmark planning decisions for London are on the horizon which are set to highlight the ongoing sustainability debate of retrofit vs rebuild.

The issue is increasingly in the limelight, and in many cases is becoming a central factor in the determination of planning applications. This is particularly so following the adoption of the London Plan in March 2021 which states that 'major development should be net zero carbon' and outlines the requirement for Mayoral referable schemes to calculate whole life cycle carbon emissions.

In Westminster specifically, its City Plan, adopted just a month after the London Plan, states that 'development will enable the extended lifetime of buildings and spaces and respond to the likely risks of consequences of climate change'.

This supporting text goes on to outline its approach to the debate:

'As new developments are large consumers of resources and materials, the possibility of sensitively refurbishing or retrofitting buildings should also be considered prior to demolition and proposals for substantial demolition and reconstruction should be fully justified on the basis of whole life carbon impact, resource and energy use, when compared to the existing building'.

What is clear is that sustainability holds much more weight in the determination process and decisions on future development proposals.  Decisions in Westminster, and across London, could act as a precedent.

There is no doubt that this increased scrutiny will require ever more detailed and robust approaches to sustainability to be considered at the very outset of proposals.

For those of us who have long campaigned for embodied carbon to be considered in development decisions, the fact that whole-life carbon is now a mainstream topic of discussion shows great progress. However, this remains a nascent area with consensus on what good looks like, and how to quantify that, restricted to a relatively small number of actors.

It will no doubt become a standard consideration in the near future, but its role should be to ensure responsible construction decisions are made, not to block essential new development.


  • Building owners and developers can get further details from Savills Earth.


Further information

Contact Joseph Oakden or Chris Cummings

Savills Planning

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