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Carbon 101

Why Now?

The world is warming rapidly, which is causing disruptions to our daily lives–from extreme weather events to changes in food production.  Scientific opinion has coalesced around keeping the average increase in global temperatures below 1.5C to avoid the worst effects of climate change1.

We cannot hit the UN targets without solving CO2 emissions that come from buildings.  Over 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction and renovation of buildings, and an additional 28% comes from heating, cooling and lighting the buildings.2.

We can’t stop constructing schools, hospitals or homes, but we can make better decisions.  We believe that the real estate industry can be a solution to this problem and take responsibility for its greenhouse gas emissions.  With Carbon Title, this is not only cost-effective, but can also be ROI positive.

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Understanding Building Emissions

When we refer to “carbon,” we are talking about the greenhouse gas emissions released to build or operate a building.  The biggest component is CO2, but nitrous oxide and methane are also powerful greenhouse gasses.  The industry typically divides greenhouse gas emissions from buildings into two categories: Embodied and Operational Carbon.

Embodied Carbon

These are emissions that come from all aspects of a building’s lifecycle not related to the operation of the building (Scope 3 in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). This includes the production of building materials, transportation of materials and people to the job site, waste, renovations, end-of-life decommissioning, etc.  Embodied carbon accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually.  Embodied carbon is difficult to measure, and is the focus of Carbon Title.  

Operational Carbon

These are emissions associated with the operation of the building–HVAC, lighting, elevators etc.--and generally comes from producing and consuming electricity and natural gas (Scopes 1 & 2 in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). Operational carbon accounts for 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. It is much easier to track, given the ubiquity of utility meters. Operational carbon is highly influenced by the local energy grid and the percent of energy coming from renewable sources.  

While it is less understood, estimating and reducing embodied carbon is essential to lowering the overall impact of our buildings on the environment.  Hines recently produced the Carbon Reduction Guide that illustrates the interplay between operational and embodied carbon and the effect it has on on emissions reductions.

Emissions throughout a Building's Lifecycle Assessment (LCA)

To organize and track a building’s carbon impact, its life span can be broken out into different stages. Each stage represents a different timeframe in a building’s life-cycle, from beginning to end, and is associated with varying levels of carbon emissions.

A1-A3 Product Materials: Embodied Emissions from raw material extraction, transportation, and manufacture into building materials or products

A4-A5 Building Emissions: Lifecycle Stages, Embodied & Operational Carbon Embodied Emissions from transportation of building components and their construction or installation

B1-B5 Building Emissions: Lifecycle Stages, Embodied & Operational Carbon Embodied Emissions from upkeep of building components, including maintenance and replacement, along with renovations

B6-B7 Use Stage / Building Operations: Operational Emissions from energy and water consumption due to building operations

C End-of-Life Stage: Embodied Emissions from demolition of building and disposal of waste

For more details download the Hines Carbon Reduction Guide.

In Carbon Title, you can calculate your embodied emissions data by either entering data from your own LCA study, or by using our easy-to-use carbon calculation tool.

Carbon Neutrality

Carbon Neutrality is a term widely used, which, put simply, means that any CO2 emissions are balanced by a similar amount of negative emissions (removal of CO2 from the atmosphere), so that the net result is carbon neutrality.  Put differently, you pay for your emissions by funding projects (generally through the purchase of carbon credits) that remove the equivalent amount of CO2.

Net Zero is a term similar to Carbon Neutrality, but generally encompasses all greenhouse gasses, not just CO2.  

Current building material availability makes it difficult, if not impossible, to completely eliminate embodied carbon emissions.  Carbon Title believes that the real estate industry should reduce emissions as much as possible, through reducing waste and using lower-carbon building materials, and then invest in carbon sequestration projects (through the purchase of carbon credits) to achieve net neutrality.

Over 21% of the world’s largest corporations have made climate neutrality pledges, and the number is growing.  In order to fulfill those commitments, they will need to occupy net zero buildings3.

3. Oxford University

Carbon Credits

In order to stay under the UN targets of 1.5C, we will need a significant amount of negative emissions, which can be measured and monetized through carbon credits.  

The carbon credit market is frothy and unregulated, but we are here to help you make sense of it.  

Purchasing carbon credits enables you to get your building to carbon neutrality and the proceeds go to fund projects that produce negative emissions.  Carbon credits can roughly be divided into two groups:

Removal credits: projects that are actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere, such as reforestation, kelp/algae farming or direct air capture (capturing CO2 from air and permanently sequestering it in rock).  

Avoidance credits: projects that implement technology or process changes to avoid releasing additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Carbon Title focuses on removal credits, although we will likely offer some avoidance credits for sale at a future date.  In selecting carbon credits, you need credits that stand up to scrutiny and are actually making a significant impact on climate change.  Carbon Title uses the following criteria in guiding which projects we vet for inclusion on our platform:


It is clear where all of our carbon credits come from. We believe that you need to be able to trace our carbon credits back to the project source and understand if they have ever been previously sold.

Clarity Around Durability

Our partners provide a veritable projected duration over which removed carbon will be stored and identify those responsible for mitigating any reversal (leakage of stored carbon) that occurs.

Science Based & Third Party Verified

All of our carbon credits are verfied and audited by third parties to ensure they are following a scientifically rigorous protocol and accurately representing the amount of carbon they are removing and storing.


Our carbon credit providers must measure their projects against a baseline of what would have occurred naturally without the revenue from carbon credit sales.  They only issue carbon credits for the additional removal and sequestration occurring above the baseline.

Information on all of our carbon credit partners can be found under the “Buy” section of the product, accessible after signup.  We are also here to help, if you have additional questions.