Reducing upfront carbon at scale

31 May 2023

Australia’s upfront carbon emissions will balloon from 16% to 85% of overall building emissions by 2050 if we fail to make better choices around the materials we build with, and how we construct them.

The Green Building Council of Australia and Lendlease today released a practical guide to reduce upfront carbon emissions in new buildings and major refurbishments, highlighting that 25% of a typical building’s emissions occur because of the emissions and the products and materials used during construction, and these emissions can’t be undone.

GBCA Chief Executive, Davina Rooney said we need to address upfront emissions now to ensure we secure a sustainable future for generations to come.

“Put simply, the buildings of today need to address the emissions of tomorrow,” Ms Rooney said.

“Reducing our upfront emissions on future projects will have a material impact on reducing climate change, will create benefits for investors who are looking for assets with a clear decarbonisation pathway, and will help to achieve Australia’s decarbonisation goals,” Ms Rooney said.

With temperatures likely to breach 1.5C in the next five years according to the World Meteorological Organisation, the race to reduce our upfront carbon emissions from construction activities is becoming more urgent.

Ms Rooney said there are some great examples of projects that have slashed their upfront emissions, but to meet our emissions reductions targets we need this change to happen at scale.

“Lendlease’s project team for 25 King Street in Brisbane made impactful decisions in the design phase to swap out materials like concrete and steel, for low carbon options like engineered timber – resulting in upfront emissions savings of almost 40%,” Ms Rooney said.

Lendlease’s Head of Sustainability Australia, Ann Austin, said its construction business plays a key role in two core aspects of the company’s ‘Mission Zero’ journey, phasing out the use of fossil fuels in construction, and eliminating upfront embodied carbon in our building materials.

“While we’ve delivered 26 engineered timber buildings globally, our research shows more needs to be done to decarbonise steel, concrete and aluminium – the three leading materials that typically contribute to more than 70 per cent of a building’s embodied carbon footprint.

“This guide will play an important role in supporting customers, supply chain and the broader industry to overcome barriers, collaborate and accelerate radical industry transformation to support a 1.5°C future.”

Ms Rooney points to another case study from the guide, Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney’s CBD which saved over 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions during construction through retaining 65% of the 1976 building’s original structure and 95% of its core.

“It was just 5 years ago that we were only focused on reducing the operational carbon of an asset. As the grid continues to decarbonise, projects like Quay Quarter Tower show us that it is possible to reduce the emissions from construction, and there is value in redeveloping existing assets,” Ms Rooney said.

A Practical Guide to Upfront Carbon shows how projects can find, reduce and report on upfront carbon, through the different lifecycle stages, and spells out the business case for projects to reduce their upfront emissions.

GBCA thanks Lendlease, the NSW Government and Sustainability Victoria for their support and contributions to the guide, which supports the GBCA’s calculation guide to upfront carbon.

A practical guide to upfront carbon reductions can be downloaded here.

Case studies:

25 King Street, Brisbane

Substation No.164, Sydney

Burwood Brickworks, Melbourne

Quay Quarter Tower, Sydney