If you think the moves to measure and monitor embodied carbon were a bit slow to take off then, you’d be out on your own. It’s taken just 18 months.

Now, in order to deflect any possible accusations of tardy work,  the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors has come out urging faster action.

On Thursday it called for embodied carbon budgets to be introduced into all future construction projects “with the goal of reducing upfront carbon emissions by at least 40 per cent to achieve our 2030 carbon emissions reduction targets.”

Now these are the people who are responsible for accurately forecasting costs when we build something. Not much gets funded without them.

So when they say you need to include the cost of carbon abatement in your estimates of construction and that those estimates had better be significant, it’s a good sign the big end of town is concerned about the reality of what’s going on.

And it’s a brutal reality. The built environment is responsible for a massive chunk of carbon emissions – 37 per cent according, according to the World Green Building Council. If you add in cities the carbon emissions hit 70 per cent.

And right now Asia and Africa expect to double their built environment footprint by 2050.  

“Meanwhile other regions are grappling with the challenges of renovating energy inefficient buildings” the organisation points out, the WorldGBC points out, adding that the gap between actual climate performance of the sector and its pathway to decarbonisation is widening, citing data from GlobalABC Status Report 2022.

This, hot on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest dire report.

What’s frustrating is that we know that the built environment’s carbon profile can be dramatically turned around without huge disruption to anyone’s lifestyle. In fact energy efficiency would improve people’s lives and health dramatically.

To get there we need some co-ordinated levers. It’s why, as the G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment was preparing to get started late this week, the WorldGBC launched its “Global Policy Principles for a Sustainable Built Environment’‘, to “support policymakers around the world adopt a holistic approach to built environment sustainability.”

It’s identified seven key focus areas: carbon, resilience, circularity, water, biodiversity, health, equity and access. By doing this it can tick off the holistic .

So with this background the announcement from the AIQS on Thursday was incredibly encouraging because it means the bean counters of our wealthy privileged country are getting with the program and saying time’s up for lazy accounting that leaves out the life forces of this planet when they cost out the next big development project.

Asked about this bold call, the AIQS’s Simon Squire who also happens to be head of cost planning for Lendlease, said: “It’s not a bold call; it’s about time. If we can leave the environment in a better position than when we found it then why wouldn’t we?”

Squire, as you’d expect, honed in on consistency and precision. Well, that’s what QSs do.

“We want to make sure there is a very consistent approach as doing the cost construction budget. We want to apply exactly the same skills.”

Under the proposal, all new builds and major refurbishments would be required to have an embodied carbon budget integrated into the projects’ construction cost budget from the outset, to ensure the best possible balance between cost and sustainability outcomes.

Slattery has been joined by WT and RLB in making up the core group pushing through the call to action.

Squire told The Fifth Estate a bunch of people had been working away in the background,  “essentially to support NABERS and the GBCA who have already done extensive work.

“The earlier we can address both the cost and the carbon budget together the greater the likelihood we have of achieving Australia’s 2O30 carbon emissions target.”

Consistency was key, he said.

Leading work in the industry, he said, was Mirvac and Lendlease. And to push along the agenda what was needed was the client side to “clearly articulate what they are trying to achieve.

“It takes a lot of effort to change and it’s only when these groups make a bold commitment that others can follow.”

He praised the work of Infrastructure Australia that requires carbon reductions to be outlined in submissions.

But to get the big improvements it will require big changes from the suppliers of materials, such as concrete, “the hardest material to transform”.

The Green Building Council of Australia’s chief impact officer Jorge Chapa said the embodied carbon movement has been incredibly well organised.

People have known – it’s been flagged – that if you want any Green Star certification you need to demonstrate you can reduce your carbon by 10 per cent. You can pick up the guide the GBCA has produced and find a comparable building as your benchmark, he says.

NABERS is on the case and trying to bring the entire industry together in agreement on methodology for measurement.

How quickly is this moving through the industry? Chapa said it’s been pretty fast “everything from residential to public buildings and office buildings – anything in fact going for Green Star is now required to show a 10 per cent carbon emissions reduction”.

That means 400 registrations right now going through the new rating tool that contains this requirement.

Until NABERS completes its measurement work the industry is right now using a method to compare developments to a typical reference building and “we have a guide that helps define what that looks like”, Chapa says.

Soon, the benchmarks for Green Star will be progressively raised, from 10 per cent now to 20 per cent for 5 and 6-star next year.

It’s been the easiest thing to pre-write the automatic upgrades Chapa says.

“Everyone in the industry knows what they are; we wrote them in 2020. The same thing happened with electrification, we started with 6-star (that needed to be fully electrified) and now it’s 5-star.”

And it’s working.

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