Chief Investigators:  Dr Ke Kim, Dr Bin Huang, Adjunct Professor David Ness

Year commenced:  September 2020, Initial report submitted April 2021, Completion of current phase expected end of 2021.  Further, more intensive research is then planned.

To achieve net zero by 2050, we must reduce building-related carbon emissions by 60 to 70% by 2030, which is a daunting challenge. To meet these targets, we have focused on reducing operational carbon (OC), but this alone is not enough. The role and impact of embodied carbon (EC) associated with producing materials, and constructing, refurbishing, and demolishing buildings is becoming more significant. We need to review green building rating tools, which are currently focused on new buildings’ OC. The rating tools are designed for new buildings, but greater use and retrofit of existing facilities – which can save carbon associated with new construction – should be better recognised and addressed by those tools. This has implications for office space planning, especially in light of growing alternatives such as digitally-enabled working from home (WFH) and making use of existing space in response to COVID-19.

Project Summary, including how the problem was solved
In conjunction with our partners, Arup and Green Building Council Australia (GBCA), we undertook scoping research that:

  1. reviewed international carbon metrics, benchmarks, and targets, from literature and policies, focusing on EC related to offices and residential buildings
  2. analysed and compared extant building rating data with international benchmarks, and assessed the impact of accounting for EC
  3. adapted an existing model for Precinct Carbon Assessment, ascertained EC data, and determined a theoretical office space/function
  4. devised and analysed various scenarios involving degrees of WFH and amount of building refurbishment/new construction, according to EC intensities
  5. compared results with previously determined benchmarks and targets.

The preliminary analysis revealed discrepancies regarding carbon footprints in the existing rating system.  In addition, to meet increasingly stringent international targets and ‘carbon budgets’, scenario analysis results have shown that increased WFH patterns and adapting existing facilities will need to replace the current emphasis on new office space.  A discussion paper is currently under review by the project partners with industry feedback to follow.  Building upon the initial study and findings, we intend to undertake further investigation, involving deeper (funded) research and access to additional data on occupancy levels of office space.

Our work has the potential to influence the next version of ‘Green Star’ rating tools, with more credits related to EC and refurbishing existing facilities. This revision may flow on to rating tools in other jurisdictions, via the World Green Building Council (WGBC).  It can also lead to reconsideration of planning for office spaces, with increased recognition of the carbon benefits of WFH and using existing/refurbished spaces.  We have published several insdustry and academic reports.