Along with financial viability, quantified embodied and operational carbon are going to be key factors in determining the suitability of future construction projects. It is going to be the Quantity Surveyor’s role to undertake this quantification as a natural extension of their skill in measuring, quantifying and pricing the installed cost of building materials on construction projects.
According to a recent Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) report (October 2021), embodied carbon in the production of building materials is responsible for 28 per cent of emissions from the building and construction sector globally. Between now and 2050 it is expected to account for almost half of total emissions from new constructions, with concrete, steel and aluminium considered some of the more challenging materials to decarbonise.
Whereas engineers are often better placed to provide specification and science data on many individual building products, the Quantity Surveyor will need utilise this information to quantify the level of embodied and operational carbon for the client as an extension of their quantification processes normally used to determine the costs.
For this to occur, the Quantity Surveyor should be one of the first consultants engaged by the client in order to advise the design team (with Architects and Engineers determining the design specifications and nominating building materials) from project inception so that assessments of embodied carbon can be undertaken as early in the design phase as possible to enable optimisation in terms of scope and time in terms of embodied carbon assessments. Here the Quantity Surveyors Professional Services Agreement with the client should include a requirement for designers to meet specific criteria for achieving reduced carbon content.
Australia is unfortunately behind other countries such as the UK, where clients (public and private sector) have long recognised that engagement of the Quantity Surveyor as the lead consultant from project inception is the only way to ensure value for money and now the required reduction in embodied and operational carbon can be achieved. It is no longer appropriate to simply assess only the construction costs in calculating the feasibility of new builds which must also account for the level of carbon emitted over the full life-cycle.
In the UK, the government’s Construction Innovation Hub has developed a “Value Toolkit” to empower clients and policy makers to work with their supply chains to make informed, value-based decisions that drive better social, economic, and environmental outcomes (such as reduced embodied and operational carbon content). According to the Construction Innovation Hub (April 2021), the Value Toolkit provides a way of defining and measuring value – as opposed to cost – which can be applied consistently throughout a project or programme lifecycle, from early business cases through to use of an asset. But change will not be delivered by a process alone. The Value Toolkit also enables clients to understand the role they should play in realising their desired outcomes.
In Australia, Quantity Surveyors should now be measuring and quantifying the total carbon footprint of a building in terms of capital costs (embodied carbon), life cycle costs (value decisions) and ‘Whole of Life’ cost (operational carbon) including potential carbon savings. Decisions can be made through the planning and development of the project on the amount of carbon offsets that may be required, asset reuse and regeneration as well as reviewing materials and building technology adopted to achieve a longer life span.
With the likely automation of some quantity surveying services, such as measurement with advances in technology, Quantity Surveyors should be expanding their role into carbon capture and emission cost advice to further develop service offerings and provide enhanced advice to their clients.
To assist with this, it is important that building products have independently verified Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) which comply with the relevant Australian Standard (e.g. AS 1379 – Specification and Supply of Concrete).
According to EPD Australasia, an EPD is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable data and other relevant environmental information about the life-cycle environmental impact of a product. All EPDs registered with EPD Australasia are independently verified to ISO 14025, with all EPDs for building and construction products also being independently verified to the best practice standard EN 15804. All EPDs include a verified embodied carbon footprint. In addition, EPDs for building and construction products are also a fast track for achieving carbon neutral certification under the Australian Government’s Climate Active Carbon Neutral Certification (www.epd-australaisia.com).
So far, work around embodied carbon has focused principally on the major construction materials: concrete, steel, aluminium, clay bricks and tiles, and plasterboard. But building services also make a significant contribution to a building’s embodied carbon.
As the requirement for the quantification of carbon gathers speed and more and more projects have collected data, there will be a need for accurate benchmarked data against which future projects can be assessed. This is again where, like benchmarked construction costs, the Quantity Surveyor will be taking the lead with their ability to analyse and advise on data.
Developments specifically targeting reduced embodied and operation carbon include the 40-storey Atlassian commercial building next to Sydney’s Central Station (due to commence construction in 2022) (pictured above in artist impression) which is targeting a 49% reduction in embodied carbon and operate on 100% renewable energy (including solar panels built into the facade).
More recently TrueGreen has announced plans to develop a 49-storey engineered timber office building in the Sydney CBD to be powered by renewable energy, reducing embodied and operational carbon by 50%, and Toga is proposing a 42-storey mixed use (office, hotel & well-being spaces), carbon neutral tower in the technology precinct nearby to the Atlassian development.
Both these buildings reflect the requirement for a Whole of Life approach to quantifying embodied and operational carbon and use of building products with significantly reduced carbon content. Like all new and innovative projects, theses first projects set benchmarks at relatively high values, but as economies of scale (and ideally government incentives such as those provided by the CEFC) improve with increased volume of low carbon buildings, construction and operating costs should reduce.
For its part, the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) will be working with the Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders Alliance (MECLA) toward achieving net-Zero emissions across the building and construction sector. AIQS will be guiding and training our members to embrace these new services of quantifying carbon applying their existing skillsets.
To ensure a uniform and consistent approach to reporting embodied and operational carbon the International Construction Management Standard coalition, of which the AIQS is a founding member, has recently released the 3rd edition, or ICMS 3. This standard sets out a methodology and standard reporting requirements for construction professionals and developers to account the amount of embodied carbon their projects will create, whether that’s through the delivery of new roads, schools, offices, housing or railways. This will harmonise the collection of data internationally and provide a credible source of benchmark information.