Experts came together in various forums this week to nail the big challenge to accelerate carbon reduction: the UK’s Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineering, the Climate Change Authority, the Green Building Council of Australia, Schneider, Accenture and Lendlease 

Australian commercial property owners have made great strides in energy efficiency and renewable energy, but now need to turn their attention to reducing the embodied carbon content in building materials. 

That’s the view of an esteemed panel of property industry experts who addressed an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce business briefing in Sydney on Tuesday. 

“Embodied carbon is the elephant in the room, because it accounts for 80 per cent of the building sector’s emissions,” chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia Davina Rooney told the gathering. 

Australia could emulate Nordic countries including Denmark, Norway and Finland which have policies to measure a threshold for emission for the complete building lifecycle from original construction to end of life, Accenture’s managing director for real estate in APAC Charlotte Bizeau said. 

She added that decision making needs to change to put a building’s carbon footprint at the centre, rather than it being an afterthought.  

Chief executive of the Climate Change Authority Brad Archer told the briefing that with annual emissions of 500mt CO2e and a year-on-year reduction of 12mt, Australia has made solid progress on renewable energy but needs to do more to reach its targeted 43 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Annual reductions need to increase to at least 17mtpa. 

“The electrification of the built environment is key to accelerating the pace of emissions reduction,” Archer added. 

GBCA is turning to guidance from a UK-based professional engineering body to help inform its position on embodied carbon in buildings, the so-called TM 65 guidance from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineering (CIBSE), which contains advice on measuring and managing embodied carbon. 

CIBSE is advising the UK government on its Net Zero Carbon Buildings standard, which will define benchmarks for operational energy usage and embodied carbon performance levels and plot a decarbonisation trajectory with limits and targets for future years.

The initiative completed a call for evidence last November, in which building services managers provided operational energy and embodied carbon data that would be incorporated into the targets and trajectory. 

When developed, the standard will be universally available and science-based but will not act as an official certification or ISO standard. A draft standard for beta testing will be developed by mid-2023.

Visiting CIBSE expert 

CIBSE president Kevin Mitchell is visiting Australia this week as part of a whistlestop tour of the APAC region. 

In an interview with The Fifth Estate he said one of the industry’s biggest challenges is finding appropriate data to measure the in-use performance of buildings. 

Besides TM 65, the industry body also provides guidance on measuring embodied carbon and on creating a circular economy in the lighting industry (TM 66).

“At a most basic level we have to design buildings that are less energy intensive,” Mitchell told The Fifth Estate.

The role of “Property Tech”

In emerging news from the digital world that can assist in the transition to net zero buildings, Intelligent software can now track all stages of the development lifecycle, including operations. 

Speaking on the sidelines of a digital innovation summit in Sydney on Tuesday, Schneider Electric vice president Louise Monger said Internet of Things software now enables companies to create a “digital twin” that can measure emissions through the construction cycle from building materials, to emissions created in transporting them and the construction process itself. 

“During the construction phase, 10 per cent of construction materials go to waste and up to 30 per cent of construction activities are reworking tasks from inefficiencies through the design and implementation process. 

“Once you run a digital twin you can look at the best methods to perform tasks, for example reduce the number of transportation routes for materials,” Monger said. 

Industry leader Lendlease’s chief executive officer, digital, Bill Ruh, told the AICC event its Podium Property Insights dashboard helps property owners monitor their assets’ performance as it provides real-time information about how properties are performing on emissions. 

For buildings to have a meaningful impact on emissions reduction, they must become “Net Zero-ready”, which at the most basic level involves removing fossil-fuel driven plant and equipment and being digitised to allow for real-time monitoring.

“2030 is only seven years away so to have all these buildings net zero ready means we need to start now. The ability to have distributed energy resources in buildings takes time,” Louise Monger added.

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  1. I agree completely that we must not drag our feet but rather sprint forward with every effort to decarbonize older buildings and to build net zero carbon buildings right now! Seven years is such a short time span in our fast moving world! I so very much enjoy the reads! Paul