Report: Built environment failing to account for lifecycle emissions of projects

Businesses operating in the built environment sector have been called upon to adopt a whole lifecycle approach to assessing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a new report finding that less than 1% of global building projects currently calculate and report on lifecycle emissions.

As few as six materials, including concrete and steel, account for 70% of the construction-related embodied carbon

As few as six materials, including concrete and steel, account for 70% of the construction-related embodied carbon

new report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), supported by professional services firm, Arup, warns that less than 1% of building projects currently account for lifecycle carbon impacts.

With the built environment responsible for around 40% of global emissions, the report cites research suggesting that the industry will need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 in order to be able to meet net-zero by 2050.

However, the report notes that most buildings do not currently undergo carbon footprint assessments across the whole life cycle, with the industry historically focusing on reducing operational energy usage.

The report found that as much as 50% of lifecycle carbon emissions from buildings come from embodied sources such as the manufacturing of materials and construction processes. As few as six materials, including concrete and steel, account for 70% of the construction-related embodied carbon, the report adds.

The WBCSD’s director of sustainable buildings and cities Roland Hunziker, said: “To get the construction industry on track to reach global climate targets, all companies need to start measuring the full carbon footprint of their real estate assets. This report builds on WBCSD’s Building System Carbon Framework, which helps companies understand where emissions occur all along the value chain and how they can work together to reduce them. 

“The report shows that if all parties in the building value chain collaborate and focus on whole-life carbon emissions reductions, we can start setting this important sector on a path towards net zero.” 

Embodied carbon

In 2019, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) issued a report outlining how companies in the sector can focus on both operational and embodied carbon to reach net-zero emission buildings by 2050.

The WorldGBC’s ‘Bringing embodied carbon upfront’ report outlines the sector’s vision for how buildings and infrastructure can reduce embodied carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, to assist with the ambition of reaching 100% net-zero emissions buildings by 2050.

The report notes that operational emissions (from energy used to heat, cool and light buildings) account for 28% of the built environment sector’s 39% contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 11% derives from embodied carbon emissions found in the material and construction processes across a building’s entire lifecycle.

In 2018, and in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement, the WorldGBC launched a net-zero commitment, setting a 2050 deadline for the transformation of the sector. Since the launch, research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has outlined the necessity of limiting global warming to 1.5C in the same timeframe.


Mission Possible: Achieving a green recovery for the built environment

The built environment sector has a major role to play in local, national and international efforts to build back better from the economic and social fallout of Covid-19. 

As part of edie’s brand-new Mission Possible: Green Recovery campaign – which supports sustainability, energy and CSR professionals on our collective mission to drive a green recovery across all major industries in the UK – the brand has published a FREE report detailing how a strong focus on net-zero, technological innovations and a history of collaboration within the sector has created the building blocks to deliver a green recovery moving forward. 

You can download the report, sponsored by E.ON and supported by UK Research & Innovation, here. 

Matt Mace



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