Built environment accused of failing to account for projects’ lifecycle emissions

Less than 1% of global building projects currently calculate and report on lifecycle emissions, according to a new report which urges businesses in the built environment sector to measure the full extent of their carbon footprint in the bid to reach net-zero by 2050.

new report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), supported by professional services firm, Arup, says that while the built environment is responsible for approximately  40% of global emissions, research indicates that the sector will need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 in order to be able to meet net-zero by 2050.

But it notes that most buildings do not currently undergo carbon footprint assessments across the whole life cycle; rather the industry traditionally focuses on cutting operational energy usage.

The report found that as many as 50% of lifecycle carbon emissions from buildings come from 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 said.

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.’

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 help achieve the 100% net-zero emissions targets for 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% comes from embodied carbon emissions found in the material and construction processes across a building’s entire lifecycle.