New Research into Whole Life Carbon Performance

Emma Gains
Our sustainability team is working with the University of Cambridge and fellow consultants on a research project that will provide consistency in whole life carbon assessment across the UK's built environment.

Back in 2012, Faithful+Gould was the lead author of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) methodology to calculate embodied carbon (PDF,4.1MB). Since then, the industry has widely adopted this methodology and the supporting BSEN15978 but there has been a growing need for consistency in the methodology and development of useful benchmarks and option appraisals to steer teams towards the lowest carbon solution.

Through our connection with the industry, academia and software providers, we were invited to be a part of a government funded project which aims to reconcile the theoretical background in whole life carbon (WLC) and make its practical implementation more straightforward and consistent in assessing life cycle carbon emissions of buildings and infrastructure.

We're developing a clear and usable practical framework for WLC assessment and carbon certification of buildings for use across the industry. 

The project is called the 'Implementing of Whole Life Carbon in Buildings' (IWLCIB). We're developing a clear and usable practical framework for WLC assessment and carbon certification of buildings for use across the industry. The EU and UK environmental life cycle assessment principles and methodology are already in place in the form of relevant standards (CEN TC 350: BS EN 15978 etc.), but different interpretations give inconsistent results.

These discrepancies have led to low credibility in the data, preventing widespread adoption of the WLC approach across the property industry. Our framework will identify and minimise disparities in WLC accounting, establishing a validated and mutually agreed carbon calculation and certification process. Meaningful WLC comparisons will then be enabled, competitiveness in the sustainability industry will be stimulated, and carbon reductions encouraged.

A successful conclusion of this framework will have important implications for the way buildings are designed, built and used. Carbon emissions reduction in the built environment will no longer be restricted to operational energy emissions, but will include embodied emissions from material selection and sourcing, the construction process and a building's life cycle. IWLCB will enable reliable and comparable assessments, boosting trust in WLC measurement and encouraging greater accessibility and industry appetite for embodied and WLC assessment.

IWLCB will enable reliable and comparable assessments, boosting trust in WLC measurement and encouraging greater accessibility and industry appetite for embodied and WLC assessment.

WLC assessments are increasingly a requirement on major infrastructure projects (often as part of the environmental impact assessment) or in negotiation with city planners regarding compliance with ever increasing carbon standards. 

A team of eight

  • Faithful+Gould – carbon analysis 
  • University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering
  • RICS
  • Sturgis Carbon Profiling - carbon analysis
  • Sustainable Business Partnership - carbon analysis
  • ARUP – peer review
  • Laing OʼRourke - construction industry advisor 
  • Land Securities - property industry advisor

15 case study assessments

Sturgis Carbon Profiling, Sustainable Business Partnership and Faithful+Gould are each carrying out WLC assessments for the same five case study projects: four buildings from Land Securities, Argent and Marks & Spencer, and an infrastructure project for a major transport scheme.

The buildings were selected as representative of UK building stock, in terms of structural systems/building components as well as use. The team will compare their findings and develop a shared methodology.

Literature review

The University of Cambridge is undertaking a detailed global literature review, investigating approaches to embodied carbon calculations in current building design practice. Inconsistencies will be flagged up in approach, problems and solutions to real life cases. They'll produce a comprehensive academic paper on the implementation of embodied carbon measurement in practice.


RICS will design the WLC certification and marking scheme in alignment with the study, underpinning the harmonisation of carbon measurement. This will subsequently become an RICS guidance note.

Roll-out plan

A commercialisation plan for the roll-out of the WLC assessment and certification product will be prepared in due course. Possibilities include engagements with stakeholders and prospective clients, launch events and presentations, dedicated workshops and training sessions, and hard-copy and digital publications.

Benefiting industry and clients

Faithful+Gould is delighted to be a leading partner on this important research study. With 10 years' experience in the carbon management field, we are committed to remaining at the forefront of sustainability research, working with top universities to bring about positive change in carbon management practices.

We know that our clients will benefit significantly from the more consistent methodology being developed on the IWLCIB project, and, in the near future, we also expect this sort of analysis to occur in the building information modeling (BIM) environment.