By Emma Hines, senior manager – sustainable construction, Tarmac
Our Clean construction: unlocking net zero research has provided an excellent opportunity to understand what the sector is doing to evaluate and measure carbon. It’s a critical stage of project management and key to helping both clients and contractors make informed materials choices so that projects deliver better environmental outcomes.
But when it comes to carbon accounting, there is a widespread divergence of responses in our research which suggests there are perhaps too many systems and bespoke approaches taking place and not enough commonality between businesses.
There are undoubtedly some contractors who have some excellent bespoke approaches to carbon measurement on projects. At the other end of the maturity curve, there are also some businesses who are still at the start of the journey.
Many are trying to build their own carbon databases when good quality industry tools already exist. At times this is not helping anyone to have more informed discussions about the whole-life performance of a product or the lifecycle impact of a project.
What’s driving this approach? It’s a mix of good intentions to support corporate carbon reporting, as well as procurement teams sometimes aiming to deliver a balanced scorecard for specific projects. The problem is that this approach often doesn’t help facilitate an opportunity to engage early and discuss how product design, selection, logistics and in-use benefits can significantly cut the whole-life carbon impact of a project.
My recommendation to customers is to use the ICE carbon database as a general benchmark for embodied carbon data and then work with your supply chain to obtain the most accurate project-specific carbon data to consider whole-life carbon. Consistency in terms of approach and benchmarking data is essential to make meaningful comparisons.
While there are good levels of understanding about what constitutes whole life measurement, this level of awareness is not always necessarily translating into delivery. Around 70% of respondents have an awareness of whole life measurement, but just over a third of companies are using this method according to our research.
The reality from my experience is that carbon measurement is all too often an afterthought. At Tarmac, we’re still inundated with requests for carbon performance data retrospectively at the end of project. This approach will not deliver the best environmental performance or outcomes. It really is a missed opportunity to have discussions up front with clients and contractors to collectively consider how to cut carbon during construction and across the lifecycle of an asset.
Tackling carbon requires an industry-wide approach and early engagement to shape and embed whole-life measurement from the outset. Those building an asset may have less interest in its long-term carbon and cost performance and duly prioritise a more simplistic embodied carbon evaluation that overlooks whole-life impacts. Engaging with construction products manufacturers early in the design process will help clients and contractors make better-informed decisions about materials and specification that improve whole-life performance.
When it comes to carbon measurement and analysis, significant progress is being made. However, we do need more common approaches, greater consistency and early engagement with the supply chain partners to consider the whole life performance of materials.