Property Australia

Why embodied carbon is the next frontier

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal November 30, 2021

Careful consideration of materials can reduce embodied carbon in buildings by 18% and save 3% on material costs, says the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.


  Three key takeaways:


While Australia is moving towards high-performing, energy efficient buildings at speed, embodied carbon emissions are locked in before the first occupants step through the front door.

Embodied carbon – the emissions created during extraction, manufacturing and transportation to construction sites – accounts for up to 10 per cent of Australia’s carbon footprint.

But a new resource, developed by the CEFC in collaboration with GBCA and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, presents practical manufacturing and design solutions to drive down embodied emissions.

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth says the new research confirms “cost effective strategies” can reduce embodied carbon on construction projects by 18 per cent and trim materials budgets by three per cent.

“Australian developers and builders don’t have to choose between sustainability and saving on costs,” Learmonth says.

Embodied carbon emissions are hard to eliminate because some of our most common building materials – notably concrete and steel, responsible for around seven per cent of emissions apiece – require process heat and chemical reactions that can’t be easily decarbonised.

Alternative materials such as geopolymer concrete and high strength steel have the potential to substantially lower emissions from embodied carbon, the report finds.

The CEFC has analysed a range of scenarios to quantify several emissions reduction opportunities. For example, if all material manufacturers switched to green power, the construction industry’s carbon emissions could be reduced by seven million tonnes a year – close to one per cent of the nation’s emissions profile.

The report also offers inspiring case studies. Lendlease’s nine-storey timber office in Brisbane, 25 King, delivered a 74 per cent reduction in carbon over a 60-year life compared to an equivalent conventional reinforced concrete building.

Frasers Property Australia’s Burwood Brickworks retail centre in Melbourne achieved a 50.5 per cent reduction in embodied carbon, notably through careful selection of materials that sequester carbon, were salvaged or had high-recycled content. Frasers Property has made a list of materials researched for Burwood Brickworks available for free download.

Davina RooneyThe GBCA’s CEO, Davina Rooney, has a clear call to action for Australia’s property industry: “Tackling embodied carbon is an enormous challenge – but it is absolutely mission critical if we are going to meet our net zero emissions targets by 2050.”

“This report shows us some of the small steps and large strides we must make if we are to future-proof our industry and maintain our global competitiveness in a low-carbon world.”