With embodied carbon making up 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, JLL has called upon the real estate industry to take action. Each year, more than 6 billion square metres of buildings are constructed using carbon intensive materials such as glass, iron, steel and concrete, with embodied carbon locked into buildings. 

The World Green Building Council estimates that embodied carbon will account for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050. As a result, engineers are looking to experiment to drive down the industry’s carbon footprint, with materials such as self-healing concrete or climate-adaptive smart glass.

“There is increasing recognition that we need to address embodied carbon if buildings are to reach true net zero, which can be achieved through a move to alternative building materials, coupled with new technology and software,” says JLL’s Head of ESS – Australia, Work Dynamics, Riccardo Rizzi.

“There’s a learning curve for developers to know more about materials with lower or no embodied carbon. There are new products and technologies that can help reduce carbon - with no added cost.”

The next generation of building materials are coming thick and fast. Graphene, made of a single layer of tightly packed carbon atoms, is 100 times stronger than steel, and can strengthen traditional concrete. It is also a more sustainable alternative to a number of materials. 

More innovative construction techniques are equally gaining traction. Modular construction, which uses 67 percent less energy compared with traditional methods, allows buildings to be easily adapted throughout their lifecycle while also improving their energy efficiency. With construction taking place offsite, deliveries to site can be cut by up to 90 percent, reducing emissions. 3D printing is also allowing for the construction of net zero energy homes.

Rizzi believes the nature of competition between new tech which will drive costs down.

“With return on investment being achieved quicker than before, this enables developers’ ESG strategies to align with investment and consumer desires.”

Building design and maintenance technologies are becoming more sophisticated, with engineers able to monitor and report carbon emissions both during construction and in day-to-day operations. Architectural software platforms help designers adjust both layouts and materials to select the lowest-carbon options, while digital twins allow full-life carbon performance to be simulated and fed back into building design.

“These are allowing users to understand the impact that optimising their buildings has on their carbon footprint. It’s crucial to allow end users to understand where they are on their sustainable journey,” says Rizzi.

Each new fit-out renovation or retrofit also offers opportunities to cut embodied carbon. New databases are also helping to identify products correctly and their environmental impacts, such as the EC3 calculator.

“We’re seeing progress but more platforms for carbon counting and carbon reduction reporting will be needed,” says Rizzi.

While innovation may be picking up speed, how quickly it trickles down to the mainstream is usually determined by how quickly corporate policies or local legislation are implemented. In Norway and recently in Colorado, embodied carbon legislation has been passed.

Rizzi estimates that 10 percent of projects are now factoring in embodied carbon, from zero just a few years ago.

“In places where such legislation is implemented, we quickly see people wanting to learn more about and the positive impact on the immediate area is felt soon after,” he says.

“Education is key. Only a few developers look at their carbon numbers the same way they look at their financials. This will inevitably increase as more people seek more environmentally friendly offices, more environmentally friendly buildings to work in. It will be an increasingly important feature here as it is overseas.”

For more information, visit jll.com.au.


Image: PBC Today