Building product information: improving carbon awareness

Pressure to reduce the impact of climate change is now at crisis-point and industries across the board are considering how to reduce their environmental impact.

Perhaps, no more so than the construction sector – responsible for circa 40% of all global CO2 emissions, it represents a significant piece of the carbon reduction 'puzzle'. Whilst efforts are underway, the decarbonisation of the built environment is still falling short of its potential, in part due to a common pitfall – a lack of reporting on carbon metrics, driven by a lack of regulation.

With the clock ticking, it is through digital innovations, such as building product information and specification tools that it can deliver greater accuracy around carbon reporting. So, what can be done?

Lacklustre carbon reporting
As it stands, the level of commitment to sustainability and carbon reporting is patchy amongst construction and architectural firms. In NBS' Sustainable Futures Report for example, just 4% of respondents said that all projects in the last 12 months had been net-zero, and over half had not worked on a single net-zero project within the same period.

The study also showed that 38% of companies measure on sustainability for most projects and 42% for some projects. Whilst the numbers represent a sizeable chunk of the industry, it is clear that information siloes and gaps in sustainability reporting are still common place. Yet without a more comprehensive system of measurement, the true scale of the issue remains unknown. After all, how can the industry ensure progress unless it knows its starting point?

A deeper understanding
Why the scale of sustainability metrics is being underreported is a complex question – and one that takes into account myriad factors, not least the lack of regulation. However, what is clear is that the digital development of the industry, in particular, the take up and growing appetite for building product information, is helping significantly when it comes to measuring the carbon output of projects.

Central to modern specification methods, building product data is helping specifiers to obtain greater knowledge on the environmental credentials and carbon output of products and systems.

Increasingly, specifiers see requests for calculations around building materials and embodied carbon. As demands grows, digitally supplied building product information has the potential to meet these demands, giving detailed information on the carbon associated with products and materials within the design phases – where sustainability has the biggest impact.

Coupled with the rise of information platforms, where designers source and choose products and materials from a comprehensive product database, specifiers can obtain accurate and detailed information on their carbon performance at the click of a button. The result is better decision making, where 'carbon breakdowns' are made easily accessible for quicker, more efficient and importantly, more accurate sustainable specification.

Increasing the chances
Investing in these processes now is vital to future progress. I believe that over time, the ability to obtain 'carbon breakdowns' will not only become more sophisticated, but the process more streamlined. In order to get there, we must start the ball rolling as soon as possible. Delaying it will only harm our chances.

It is common sense to recognise that time-strapped specifiers will be more inclined to report on carbon metrics if processes are easier to manage – and this is where specification platforms, and by extension construction data, comes into its own. Adopting digital methods on a larger scale will only help to improve the technology available, increasing the chances of more thorough reporting on metrics.

Two-way street
That is not to say that the responsibility lies entirely with specifiers and the functionality of digital platforms. To increase carbon reporting, there also needs to be greater input from manufacturers. This includes taking an upfront and honest approach to their environmental credentials, so that specifiers can be sure the calculations are correct. To do so, manufacturers must continue to invest in digitally supplied building product information – ensuring it is in a form that suits specifiers and is amenable to their needs.

It also highlights the importance of accuracy around the life cycle analysis of products and how this can work in favour of manufacturers. If a specifier is able to access vital information with ease and understand the sustainability of a product at face value, it is more likely to be specified. 

Equally, those manufacturers that supply environmental product declaration information digitally, are also set to benefit, as offering transparent information improves the chances of specification, particularly as carbon credentials are increasingly a deciding factor.

Do not stall the inevitable
Faced with a tough economic climate, it would be easy to delay change. However, the possibility of legislation and the climate emergency demand otherwise. The 2023-25 embodied and whole life carbon implementation plan, as part of the Future Homes Standard, is a step in the right direction but awareness is needed on the potential of building product information and its ability to assist in the accurate and consistent measurement of embodied and whole life carbon.

As we find ourselves on the knife edge of of climate disaster, we must now put our trust in construction data and understand that carbon reporting is not just another box ticking exercise; it could help determine the future of our planet.

This article first appeared in AT Journal issue 146

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Climate change Digital