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Steps to Net Zero: Step 7 - Publicly disclose performance annually using an embodied carbon database

Sustainability By Madlen Jannaschk, ESG Director – 06 May 2020

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Madlen Jannaschk

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In our six previous steps, we outlined the practical measures required to physically reduce the carbon footprint of a building in its construction and operation. This final step looks at the importance of transparency. To ensure credibility and consistency there must be a clear and simple reporting mechanism which can enable building owners and design teams to compare their performance with their peers. This will drive competition and give building owners, occupants and investors a transparent way to understand the performance of their buildings.

As outlined in Step 6, Consider whole life carbon in conjunction with whole life costing, upon completion, all new buildings should report the actual measured upfront carbon associated with their construction onto a publicly available database and offset the full carbon footprint. In countries where carbon intensity targets are available then compliant schemes should be highlighted.

For every subsequent year, the operational carbon emissions should then be reported with any residual carbon offset annually using the Gold Standard carbon offset schemes or equivalent. The aim is to reduce offsets over time through further onsite reductions. This should encompass all operational emissions from use, maintenance, repair, replacements, refurbishments to operational energy and water. Like the carbon intensity targets, the annual operational energy performance should be reported against any operational energy targets. Only where intensity targets are met with all residual emissions offset can a building be considered to be net zero.

The annual reports should be made publicly available summarising past and current carbon emissions. The methods and the quality of the data used to calculate emissions should be verified by an independent third-party auditor. This should be aligned with internationally recognised standards.

The final part of the reporting process, will be to annually offset any residual carbon by purchasing of carbon offsets. Offsets are projects that either remove emissions from the atmosphere or avoid emissions from being released. They can be nature-based like reforestation projects or technology-based like investments in renewable energies. Offset projects should have their own Monitoring, Verification and Reporting (MVR) procedures and audits in place through internationally recognised standards to ensure genuine emissions reductions.

Gold Standard Offsets are widely recognised as projects with the highest quality assurance procedures, but other types of offsets, such Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) can be purchased. Offsets that were initiated and issued under the Kyoto Protocol, like Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) and Removal Units (RMUs), are still available for purchase but are highly controversial because global regulations for the recognition of these units are changing after the Kyoto Protocol was superseded by the Paris Agreement in 2015 and may soon be no longer credible for removing/avoiding emissions.

Offsetting is one way to reduce a building’s carbon emissions to net zero. However, offsetting too much can be seen as a ‘buy out’ to avoid true climate action, that is why intensity targets are so important to ensure integrity and transparency. Purchasing offsets should always be the last resort and ongoing efforts should be made to implement ongoing emission reductions on site as far as possible over the whole lifetime of the building.

Only by following all seven of the steps can we achieve net zero carbon. For more information, you can also head over to our website to see how we can make your project more sustainable.