Australia is missing a major opportunity in the renewable space as our governments remain more concerned about keeping votes than implementing meaningful change to reduce our CO2 emissions.

The construction industry is a huge contributor to emissions in this country with embodied carbon making up 16 per cent of Australia’s built environment emissions according to a recent Green Building Council of Australia report.

The Embodied Carbon & Embodied Energy in Australia’s Buildings report findings state without intervention this share will balloon to 85 per cent in 2050 at a time when Australia must achieve net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Due to this significant contribution to the climate change emergency, we need to introduce legislation towards mandatory reporting of carbon emissions in the built environment, along with limiting embodied carbon emissions on projects.

It’s also incumbent on all stakeholders in the industry to look at the building process holistically and consider the whole lifecycle of projects, including planning, design, construction, and operation. This includes the use of alternative greener materials and processes, design parameters and right through the construction process, to where the materials are manufactured.

Embodied carbon is the total greenhouse gas emissions generated in the process of manufacture and construction of building. It represents the largely hidden impacts of a building before it is even occupied.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is putting forward an international construction measurement standard (ICMS) and the third version deals with embodied carbon with a methodology to calculate it.

There is also a desire from people working in the industry to implement processes to reduce embodied carbon emissions.

Carbon emissions are also coming on to the balance sheet, so investors want to know about it and builders are conscious of it.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report effectively says if Australia doesn’t reduce its carbon emissions it will be taxed, meaning anything Australia exports will attract some form of levy to incentivise change. So, we’ll end up paying for it somewhere, which is why people are getting more focussed on it.

Organisations are starting to commit to net zero with some even achieving or aspiring to nett positive, as the impacts are being noticed on the “hip pocket” and affecting the balance sheet..

Essentially, government and the industry need to be pulling together to get carbon emissions down as temperatures are rising, we’re already 1.5 degrees warmer, we are destined for more fires, more cyclones, more flooding, more severe weather events and simply paying a tax doesn’t stop the temperature rising on its own.

In Australia we have seen some examples of success in reducing carbon emissions.

We’ve seen a 20 per cent saving on the pilot schemes of concrete curing, which is going to reduce 500 million tonnes by 2030.

There’s some smart HVAC air conditioning commercial systems that will produce 300 million tonnes a year in reductions.

The new Atlassian headquarters at Central Station is targeting a 50% reduction in embodied carbon compared with a conventional building. This would be a first in the Australian construction industry and world leading by comparison. The 50% reduction represents a self-imposed target beyond any industry rating scheme intended to challenge the entire construction industry to perform better on Embodied Carbon. All opportunities to create a better performing design, as well as procurement of low EC construction materials are being tested and explored in the process.

Construction company Built has stopped using traditional emissions-intensive concrete and substituted it with lower carbon varieties. Through the use of a concrete with a 40-45 per cent lower emission mix instead of conventional concrete, its construction projects have been successful in reducing carbon by up to 25 per cent, with minimal impact on cost.

The construction industry overall has around 25% of Australia’ total emissions, so the above examples are a good place to start. But even of that 25%, if we’ve got a 10-20 % reduction it’s not enough in the overall scheme of things. Transport, agriculture and farming also need to be contributing to emission reductions as well.

However, as finally stated in the GBCA report’s finding “there is a clear need for governments to support suppliers as they decarbonise and for investment in research and development of new materials and practices”, but governments need to go further than that and enshrine in legislation key targets for the construction industry to meet 2050 zero emission targets and ultimately save the planet.