Embodied Carbon - Industry Research

Sean Lockie
To coincide with the launch of Faithful+Gould's new sustainability and carbon management division, we conducted some industry research on the topic of embodied carbon. We surveyed 166 global leaders in the property and construction sectors and asked them some questions.

Here Faithful+Gould's Sean Lockie, director of the new sustainability and carbon management division, provides his views on the (surprising) findings:

1. Have clients ever asked you about embodied carbon? - 53% reported that their clients have never asked them about it

Sean Lockie: We found this astonishing and evidence of the low levels of industry awareness given how much carbon is actually locked up in the things that we buy. If we start to consider embodied carbon we might get some unexpected results when we undertake options appraisals. The IGT report published last December made quite a big play for the need to measure and manage embodied carbon as part of any whole life carbon assessment. But, a major barrier was availability of data, and a consistent methodology.

The fact that this issue is excluded from the Building Regulations and from other regulatory mechanisms such as the CRC (Carbon Reduction Commitment) means that it's only going to capture a few projects. A regulatory driver (e.g. including an embodied carbon assessment in the Building regulations) would really help here.

2. Do you believe that the true carbon costs of projects are being properly considered? (i.e. are assessments being made solely on a building's operational carbon efficiency as opposed to the real carbon cost of building it) - A massive 76% said a project's true carbon costs were not being properly considered

SL: This could be due to a number of reasons including those making decisions, and who benefits from these. The different actors in the process have different drivers. The developer's driver is short term, and driving down the capital cost of the building; the landlord's is to pass as much of the service charge to the tenant; and the tenant tends not to hold the budget or control to tackle many of the big carbon saving opportunities in the building such as the efficiency of the main plant or the performance of the envelope (these tend to be landlord or developer decisions). This has been called ‘the circle of blame' by the industry. 

3. Who do you think is best placed in the supply chain to calculate, and then manage, embodied carbon? - 42% said M&E engineers, 22% said architect and only 19% said the QS

SL: This is an amazing result and while you might expect us to say so given we have a large number of quantity surveyors in Faithful+Gould, we really do believe the QS is best placed to manage it. Why? 1, Because QSs are close to the quantity of materials and their specifications. 2, Because they are close to the financials. 3, Because I know the RICS is taking this issue on and a number of the major QS firms like Faithful+Gould are developing systems to quantify and manage embodied carbon as part of their cost planning service. As a company we're putting a huge effort in this area. We think it's the big area where the QS can have some real influence over in a carbon conversation. 

4. Should embodied carbon mitigation contribute towards a project's on site renewables requirements, i.e. the Merton Rule? - A whopping 89% said yes it should count towards

SL: This is a high percentage. It's good to see that most local authorities have understood the carbon hierarchy principles of reducing demand first and then looking at onsite renewables. Onsite renewables have been given a major boost with the financial incentives now available through the Feed In Tariffs, and this will help a developer meet any on site generation targets that have been set.  What we have to get our heads around though is that every tonne of CO2 avoided by a company is about a £200 saving on their bottom line and that is at today's energy and carbon prices which we are all expecting to rise in a carbon constrained world.