In 2020, thousands of you adopted the ambitious goals of the Declare movement and Net Zero Embodied Carbon to provide clarity and momentum on this crucial issue. 

Now, 2021 is here and it’s time to take tangible action, but it can be overwhelming – so here is our four-step action plan to help kick-start your goals:

  1. Define your project benchmark (how much carbon are we talking?)
  2. Prioritise action (where is the carbon and what design principles are the best to apply?)
  3. Specify the net zero performance metrics (at any stage of design)
  4. Report, share, repeat.

The Footprint Company in its many years of practice in embodied carbon has found:

  • 30 per cent reduction is consistently viable and it generally saves money
  • 40 per cent is rapidly emerging as standard with the growth of recycled materials and the rise of European circular economy materials
  • 50 per cent is possible, but only if you start with an embodied carbon target.

So how do we define a Net Zero Embodied Carbon building? In simple terms, a building that achieves the highest level of materials efficiency with residual emissions offset to achieve net zero across the design annualised life span (conceptualised in Figure 1)

Figure 1- Net Zero Embodied Concept

Benchmark your Project

The ultimate goal is of carbon reduction is zero – but with an immediate step of 50 per cent from today’s average. But what is “average”, and what building element drives the footprint and is the key to Net Zero success?

Getting information on “average” has been tough, until now and 2020 saw some figures published out of the UK which has created confusion for many. TFC has prepared Table 1 to clarify global “average”.

Figure 2 Global Average Embodied Carbon Benchmark Comparison

Australian data is drawn from TFC’s whole building carbon FootprintCalculator results database of over 1700 projects globally across a variety of building types. The company has created an Embodied Carbon Star rating performance band using the NABERS methodology.

Most classes of buildings and a range of tenancy fitouts have benchmarks.

Quickly Profile Embodied Carbon

Profiling your carbon footprint in a manner aligned to international standards – including quantity surveying/cost estimating conventions means that the cost implications of design strategies can be quickly compared and evaluated.

The biggest and cheapest carbon reduction (30 per cent or more) is available at the early-phase of design well before detailed drawings exist. At detailed design or even the procurement phase, 10 per cent reduction through supplier or product declaration is all that is generally possible.

There is a range of information and calculation tools now available. Understanding which tool is best and at which design stage for quick and informative iteration, gives you a head start on cutting carbon footprint.

Some tools are good at benchmarking, others good for large scale early design in 3D, or feasibility and concept, and others great for detail and procurement – see the TFC Tools profile here.

Figure 3 shows profiling at the early design stage to demonstrate the value of understanding the major design element drivers.

Figure 3 – Average Embodied Carbon Benchmark by Major Building Element

Set Key Performance Metrics

Integrating embodied carbon performance metrics and evidence requirements into briefs, specifications and contracts is the most powerful way of ensuring outcomes. In the same way that operating carbon has become core through the specification of a NABERS Star rating – embodied carbon metrics will have the same impact.

Understanding how to translate your profiling analysis into actionable and deliverable KPI’s is crucial to success.

Report, Share & Learn

In 2018, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published a best practice guide to quantifying embodied carbon, which has been widely adopted and now being adapted for use in Australia.

What’s essential is to achieve a “complete” and consistent measure – including the things you can measure easily (concrete, steel etc) but also “unmeasured” items by using the carbon intensity of money. Internationally, this “incompleteness” has been identified as a key issue which is crucial to solve to ensure we get the cuts we need. (Figure 3 demonstrates this in the values from the Royal Institute of British Architects or RIBA .

The vast majority of published whole building carbon assessments are “incomplete” generally by more than 35-40 per cent, which is “material” in its scale.

We advise all our users to benchmark their projects internally first as a powerful means to building awareness and capacity.

Bringing it Together

Taking action to radically reduce your embodied carbon is now more accessible than ever. A wide variety of tools and resources are available for use at any stage of the property life cycle.

Net Zero Embodied Carbon by 2040 is a realisable goal – Start HERE

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  1. Thank you so much for this blog, I have a question though. I want to calculate the embodied carbon footprint of a building but I don’t know how to calculate it. Is there any blog explaining the method we calculate it?