The announcement on Thursday that embodied carbon would become part of the NABERS rating tool – and NSW planning policies – will be a rocket under the already huge demand in the built environment to bring this massive source of emissions under control.
The development of a new rating tool for embodied carbon is currently underway by NABERS, with the aim of creating a national baseline for better performance and developing supply chains.
Due to be completed in around the next 18 months, the tool is intended to roll out nationally as a voluntary rating for commercial buildings, with the potential to enable mandatory planning policy in the future.
A team has been created to work exclusively on the project from within NABERS, with funding from the NSW government.
As with existing NABERS’ rating tools, the new framework will be the product of extensive industry and stakeholder consultation and is being developed in close partnership with the GBCA in order to harmonise the approach of Green Star and NABERS on embodied carbon.
Another key partner will be the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA) which has an established foundation for dealing with supply chain providers.
NABERS director Carlos Flores told The Fifth Estate, questions such as whether the new tool will take on a six star format like existing rating tools will be resolved later in the development process.
He explained that unlike energy efficiency, embodied carbon was yet to be ingrained in Australia’s design and development landscape, despite growing interest from policymakers and industry.
“Everyone recognises that embodied carbon will have to be part of our planning policies for new buildings, there’s a lot of interest and momentum in that,” Mr Flores said.
“But we’re at a point in time where we don’t really have great frameworks to be able to do that at scale — so to me that is why this project is so important.”
A key benefit of having a national framework will be the ability to compare building’s carbon footprints with those around them.
“If you’re building a new office tower and you want to make it very low in embodied carbon, you can measure the carbon footprint of that building relatively well,” he explained.
“But the question of, ‘are you actually using less embodied carbon than other buildings’ is not that easy to answer because to do that you actually need benchmarks, you need to know what the typical office building is.”
In recognising the importance of a standardised framework, NSW has committed at least $4.8 million to fund the program, however Mr Flores said the framework will be created with a national scope to help ensure best outcomes.
“The supply chain of construction materials is a national industry and we always have big industry bodies coming to us and saying ‘we want national frameworks that apply nationally’, because that’s how you get industry consistency and low costs,” he said.
NSW’s updated SEPP to include embodied carbon
NSW Treasurer and minister for Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said the new framework would “boost transparency around building sustainability for investors, building owners and tenants and help to create consumer-led demand for low-carbon construction materials.”
An updated version of NSW’s Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), due for draft release in the upcoming weeks, will include embodied carbon in what Mr Flores described as a “relatively simple first step” with the intention of incorporating it more in subsequent years.
“Embodied carbon is coming into planning policies in NSW,” Mr Flores said.
“It’s not going to have very restrictive embodied carbon budgets or anything like that, because the frameworks and the standards to be able to do something like that don’t quite exist just yet.
“We’re waiting on standards, like the one we are working on right now to be developed so they can incorporate embodied carbon in a more full capacity into planning policies but that is definitely starting to happen now.”
The ball already rolling in industry
Companies including Lendlease, Mirvac and Built have already embarked on ambitious embodied carbon reducing projects, like Atlassian’s new Sydney headquarters which aims to cut embodied carbon by 50 per cent based on a comparable building.
“We’ll be collecting lots of industry data, getting an insight on what are some challenges that those working in embodied carbon at the moment are facing,” Mr Flores said.
“And how do we go from a small number of buildings doing work in that space to having most buildings or all buildings using an embodied carbon as a way to design better buildings. We’re quite far from that at this point, but we could be there in two or three years.”