Whole life carbon: How to measure and manage building emissions in real estate portfolios
A new report commissioned by IIGCC highlights how investors are considering buildings emissions using a ‘whole life carbon’ approach, drawing on research and case studies from experts and industry leaders.
When it comes to buildings, what you can’t see is as important as what you can.
Around 40% of global emissions come from the built environment; beginning with embodied carbon generated at the manufacture stage and during any refurbishments, its operational emissions, right through to eventual demolition and recycling.
Read: Measuring and managing whole life carbon in real estate portfolios.
Collectively these emissions are known as Whole Life Carbon (WLC) emissions. Taking this approach helps investors to better understand the true carbon footprint of their real estate assets, but measuring and managing it remains a challenge.
To help, in 2022 IIGCC launched a new real estate working group and hosted a series of roundtables with consultancy, Climate Strategy & Partners to collate knowledge, share best practices, and support our members.
The roundtables showcased investor case studies, tools and best practices, alongside research from industry players across the real estate value chain including Ramboll, JLL, Arcelor Mittal and more. They also outlined the policy recommendations that would better support investors in this space.
What is embodied carbon?
Conversations began with embodied carbon, the term for greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture and use of a product or service. In the case of buildings this includes extraction, manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining, and disposal.
Data from Ramboll suggests that two thirds of embodied carbon occur before a building is in use. Sustainability leaders are increasingly turning their attention to this stage, offering an opportunity to better-incentivise decarbonisation in the construction sector.
However, this approach isn’t yet commonplace, leaving some investors concerned that those with a more rigorous embodied carbon approach are being hindered, not rewarded, in the current regulatory environment.
Aleksandra Njagulj, Global Head of Real Estate at DWS and Co-Chair of IIGCC’s real estate working group said: “The embodied carbon best practices documented by IIGCC members in 2022 demonstrate how investors can deliver emissions reductions in their portfolios, as long as the regulatory bar is supportive of climate leadership and provides a level playing field for everyone.”
A whole life approach
Discussions then outlined how this whole life approach can be incorporated into investor practices. The report recommends four key principles:
- Identify and use Whole Life Carbon Assessments to measure the environmental footprint of materials used in building projects
- Set overall targets based on individual asset pilots and expand up to the portfolio level
- Have a portfolio-level strategy to deliver the targets that are set over multiple years
- Provide transparency and regular reporting to stakeholders
One example of this approach in action is a Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM) project in Bristol, which aims to retrofit an existing office building.
Adding a four-floor extension, the project will prioritise less carbon-intensive materials and procure locally to minimise transport costs, helping to reduce embodied carbon.
LGIM will also make the building more energy efficient through improved insulation, along with sourcing more power from renewables – driving down its operational carbon footprint.
“Unlocking building sustainability in Europe is largely a renovation challenge, yet embedding a whole life carbon approach into investment portfolios is also vital for net zero buildings,” explained Peter Sweatman, CEO of Climate Strategy and Partners.
“Leading financial institutions are powerful stakeholders in real estate, and their progress is an important contribution to this debate.”
Looking ahead, in 2023 the IIGCC real estate working group will focus on raising investor ambition in the industry, offering new tools and support for those aligning their portfolios with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
This includes step-by-step whole life carbon guidance, which will give investors a more credible way to address emissions and incorporate the practice into decarbonisation strategies.
Our real estate specialist, Hugh Garnett, will also be raising awareness at several events. This includes MIPIM in Cannes, where we are a content partner for the event’s first “road to zero” stage.
From a regulatory perspective, the recast of the EU Energy Performance Buildings Directive (EPBD) provides an opportunity to raise the ambition, rate, and depth of renovations required in the EU’s Renovation Wave Strategy.
We are in strong support of this proposal and have sent letters to the Commission and MEPs highlighting the critical role investors will play in meeting its objectives.
In the UK, the biggest ever net zero review, “Mission Zero” saw improved energy efficiency feature in recommendations to government. This included calls for the minimum efficiency rating for all nondomestic buildings, both rented and owned, to be Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) B by 2030.
The new UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has also highlighted buildings as a key priority for 2023, setting out to “improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, businesses and public sector buildings to meet the 15% demand reduction ambition.”
All encouraging signs, but for investors still early in measuring their own real estate emissions, this report is designed to be a supportive first step.
If you’d like to take part in our working groups and be the first to see insights and analysis, why not speak to our investor relations manager today to find out more about becoming a part of IIGCC.