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New tool reveals true carbon cost of building design

The Embodied Carbon Metric (ECM) is based on an award-winning British carbon tool and tailored to measure up to Australian standards. Davis Langdon has already applied it to a local building project.Davis Langdon associate director Michael Manikas said the embodied carbon calculator and carbon benchmarks used in the design and cost-planning process of construction projects were intended to assist with the selection of construction materials in the design process and to reduce a development’s overall carbon footprint.“Information on the embodied carbon content of many construction materials and processes has, until now, not been readily available in a format which can be used during the design process, and this could result in higher than desired carbon content and ultimately in additional costs to reduce the carbon footprint to present-day standards,” Manikas said.Complex, lightweight building components are often more energy-intensive to manufacture than conventional construction, a factor that is often ignored when “low-carbon” buildings are specified with high-performance components.“These are the sorts of issues which can be teased out using the embodied carbon calculator, allowing developers and design consultants to use optimal materials and practices to achieve a low-carbon outcome.”The ECM tool can assess the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the manufacture of materials, including their transport. Emission factors are calculated based on a life-cycle approach and assesses the carbon intensity of products, including the extraction of raw materials, primary energy sources, manufacture and transport. It provides a methodological support to decision makers to assist in initial specifications and even to justify the selection of individual components such as frame options, facades and finishes.Manikas said embodied carbon would become increasingly significant as a major component of a building’s whole-of-life carbon footprint as operational carbon emissions are reduced.“A low-energy building may have a wind turbine, photovoltaics and insulation, but unless you can accurately assess just how much carbon has been emitted in construction, it is impossible to effectively calculate the building’s carbon footprint,” he said.“In the same way that operating and maintenance costs need detailed consideration, it is important that the day-one carbon impact of a project is understood and mitigated.”

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