Carbon footprint of 40,000 UK public buildings


Carbon visuals specialises in providing a ‘feel’ for carbon data. Initially we focused on single statistics and small data-sets. Now we can use the same techniques to provide a sense of scale for tens of thousands of carbon footprints at the same time.

With a grant from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board we have been exploring real-time visualisation and the visualisation of large data-sets. One of the results is an interactive visualisation of the carbon footprint of every public building in England and Wales – 40 thousand of them! The visualisation works in any browser that can run the Google Earth plugin but because the dataset is large, the plugin may perform sluggishly on slow computers.

Or open in desktop version of Google Earth:

The visualisation uses a database of UK Display Energy Certificates – the energy ratings that all public buildings must display. Once we had geocoded these we displayed the buildings’ carbon footprint in 3D in Google Earth as actual volumes of carbon dioxide gas at the location of the building itself.

We can display the daily footprint as well as the annual footprint because a day’s emissions are sometimes easier to relate to activity. We can also display the footprint with reference to the floor-area of the building itself. Wide short footprints indicate buildings with smaller emissions per square metre than narrow tall footprints.

This application uses data obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government by the Centre for Sustainable

The visualisation works in a number of ways. It allows comparison with other comparable buildings at the same time as providing a sense of scale of emissions from buildings as a whole. Most importantly, it uses the world itself as part of its own explanation. Our familiarity with the real world – with buildings we work in and cities we travel through – is an underused resource in data visualisation. With Google Earth we can put that experience to work.

We can use the same techniques for any geocoded emissions data and create visualisations that can be explored interactively in Google Earth on the desktop or the web. We can also create stand-alone fly-through animations that present the data efficiently to any non-technical audience.

Bird's eye view of Westminster