Carbon neutral and nature positive: The GPT Group changes the game

31 Aug 2022

In 2020, The GPT Group showed the industry that carbon neutral operations across an entire portfolio was possible. Now, in another Australian first, GPT is addressing its ‘upfront carbon’ in new developments. We talked to Steve Ford and GPT’s Development Team to find out more…

GPT boasts more certified carbon neutral floor space than any other property owner in Australia, following carbon neutral certification of the GPT Wholesale Office Fund by NABERS and Climate Active in 2020.

“Very few people thought we’d deliver a carbon neutral building by 2020. But we delivered a whole property portfolio of carbon positive buildings by 2020 – and we supported a certification pathway that everyone can now use,” says Steve Ford, The GPT Group’s Head of Sustainability and Energy.

“Once you are operating a carbon neutral portfolio, the next biggest source of emissions is upfront. The decisions we make at the design and construct stages sets the benchmark for, perhaps, the next 80 years.”

This month, GPT achieved upfront carbon neutral certification on a Melbourne logistics centre at 143 Foundation Road in Truganina. “We have also committed to implement our upfront embodied carbon emissions strategy in all new developments,” Steve says.

As the GBCA’s Principal Nature Positive Partner, GPT hopes to stimulate demand for low-carbon designs, expand the pool of consultants with skills in upfront carbon and “ultimately leverage our investments in the built environment to leave a positive legacy for the natural environment”.
The term ‘embodied carbon’ covers the emissions generated during a building’s entire lifecycle – from raw materials extraction right through to demolition and disposal. Upfront carbon – the emissions generated from the materials and construction stages in a development – accounts for up to 80% of a building’s embodied emissions.
“Upfront carbon may be considered Scope 3, but it is within our control because we choose to undertake and pay for the developments,” Steve says.

Steve Ford, Head of Sustainability and Energy, The GPT Group

Lean and low carbon building

GPT’s Truganina development at 143 Foundation Road was assessed by GBCA and Climate Active, and the upfront carbon neutral certification has been hailed by GBCA’s Chief Executive Officer Davina Rooney as “game changing moment for Australia”.

A series of carefully considered measures combined to reduce emissions at 143 Foundation Road by around 23% when compared to the GBCA’s benchmark construction processes. The savings come from a combination of industry-led improvements which have elevated standards as well as initiatives driven by GPT, such as the inclusion of low-emission concrete mixes with up to 30% ground-granulated blast-furnace slag content.

Another initiative GPT has implemented logistics development projects in Queensland is the use of a low-carbon polymer concrete which has up to 90% less emissions intensive than Portland cement.

Industrial buildings like 143 Foundation Road are already “lean structures,” says Darren Hunt, GPT’s Head of Development, Logistics. But applying a carbon lens during design can uncover cost savings and co-benefits. For example, specifying Australian made materials reduces the carbon emitted during transportation while creating local jobs, Darren notes.

Design decisions can reduce upfront carbon by between 20 and 40%. But offsetting residual emissions is required to achieve carbon neutrality. “As much as 80% of emissions can’t be eliminated through design or materials,” Steve adds. “When dealing with residual emissions, GPT’s approach is to compensate for remaining impacts by purchasing offsets that are of the highest quality and make a real difference.” This decision will drive GPT “further and faster” towards its goal of being “nature positive”.

For example, 143 Foundation Road’s residual emissions have been offset through a partnership with Greenfleet, which will support restoration of 1,100 hectares of native forest in the Noosa hinterland. This project will permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere while also addressing biodiversity loss and engaging with Traditional Owner communities. Greenfleet CEO Wayne Wescott describes the project as “restoring Country for climate”.

"We've chosen forest restoration projects in Australia because we believe this is the right approach,” Steve adds. “Climate Active doesn't yet recognise offsets from new investments in reforestation projects as only historic offsets are recognised. So GPT is also retiring historic offsets from international projects that avoid emissions from fossil fuel energy generators.”

This “parallel process” means each tonne of carbon generated is offset twice – once with Climate Active and once with Greenfleet and achieves a carbon positive outcome. This may evolve following the independent review of Australia’s carbon credit system.

“With our Greenfleet partnership to restore forests, we are ensuring that our buildings move beyond providing a positive legacy in the built environment to also deliver a positive legacy in the natural environment.”

The Silicon Valley of sustainability

GPT has also committed that all future office developments will be upfront carbon neutral. GPT’s office tower development at 51 Flinders Lane in Melbourne is on track to achieve upfront carbon neutrality, following Green Star verification, and will be certified by Climate Active upon completion.

“Driving efficiency through the design process is critical to eliminating and reducing the upfront embodied carbon inherent in creating the built environment,” says GPT’s Head of Office Development Jamie Nelson.

“We commence the process by quantifying the embodied carbon and Global Warming Potential for all elements of the initial design and work towards creating the most efficient and viable building possible.

“GPT’s team and our design consultants work continually to refine the design, focusing on reducing the area and the efficiency of structural components, material and product selections, while mapping the carbon position to resolve the final design.”

A period of intense experimentation is ahead for the property industry. But as Jamie says: “They are our buildings and we’re here to create assets that will last for the long term. If anyone is responsible for sending a signal to the market it must start with us.”

Avoiding the use of materials and minimising waste is also at the apex of action on upfront carbon, and GPT will also challenge tenant expectations by delivering cold, rather than warm shell offices ready for tenant fitouts.

“GPT’s development team has agreed with Lendlease, our contractor for 51 Flinders Lane, to use electric cranes and power tools, low emission lighting and equipment to deliver a carbon neutral construction process”, says GPT’s Project Director Natalie Burdon.

“GPT also undertakes material cost benefit and fit-for-purpose analysis on a case-by-case basis to determine when materials can be replaced with a lower upfront embodied carbon alternative that meets the project’s performance requirements,” adds GPT’s Senior Development Manager Angus Gordon. “When you are looking to reduce your carbon impact at the design phase, you inherently reduce costs as well because you get a leaner building.”

Steve Ford says GPT’s entire team sees its stance as an opportunity to “set an example for our customers and to speak from a position of experience and action… not by 2030 or 2040, but now”.

Steve likens the Australian property industry’s sustainability sector as its ‘Silicon Valley’. “We have all these people in a relatively confined market, working collaboratively and competitively. The GBCA is the glue that holds it together. By working with the GBCA as the Principal Nature Positive Partner we believe that every member can benefit.

“Even though we are always learning and trying to improve, there is no excuse for inaction.”
The time to take action on embodied carbon is now and we thank partners like GPT Group who are leading the way. Our next embodied carbon masterclass is approaching, join us to hear how other industry leaders are managing low embodied carbon projects today. This course fills quickly, book early here.

51 Flinders Lane, VIC. The GPT Group. Targeting a 6 Star Green Star - Design & As Built v1.2