Leaner and Greener: The Benefits of Embodied Carbon Assessment

The data revolution in construction has decision-makers planning for a greener built environment, and quantity surveyors and estimators will play a key role in achieving these goals.

While surveyors are well-versed in all aspects of cost quantification, many are expanding their repertoire so they can advise upon embodied carbon and emissions across the lifecycle of construction projects.

In this blog, we explain some of the benefits that cost professionals can expect if they broaden their knowledge on energy efficiency as it pertains to building materials.

Greater Professional Opportunity on Major Builds

The consensus is that many project disciplines must come together if we are to reduce emissions in a meaningful way across the industry. Owners, developers, engineers, architects and many other parties must calibrate their thinking in the planning phase to achieve the best possible result.

Cost consultants are no exception to this. A large volume of engineering decisions require QS input, and those who possess a deep knowledge of the cost, practicality and embodied carbon output of proposed materials will become an indispensable resource.

In 2022, forward-thinking AEC companies are looking to solidify the future of their enterprises by reducing emissions wherever possible. The importance is impossible to ignore, and quantity surveyors looking to take part in exciting projects must gain a working understanding of carbon-cutting practices. Those who embrace the future will not only be contributing to a more sustainable built environment, but their professional prospects will sustain better in the long-term too.

Reductions in Carbon, Reductions in Cost

Typically when we think about carbon emissions produced by the built environment, we think about the long-term operation phase of buildings; heating, cooling, lighting, etc. In truth, the building materials and components chosen will have a significant impact on energy output.

A common perception surrounding energy-efficient projects is that they are significantly more expensive than ‘traditional’ builds. However, advances in qualitative data and BIM analysis have made it possible for quantity surveyors to reduce both costs and emissions on their projects.

A recent study by UNSW researchers, as well as the CRC for Low Carbon Living and Multiplex, investigated how the Value Engineering principle could be applied in reducing embodied carbon emissions on projects. As part of the study, they theorised methods to reduce cost and carbon on an 18-storey block, having determined that the simple concrete frame structural system could be improved upon.

Four alternatives were offered; a flat concrete slab structure, a post-tensioned concrete slab, a steel deck system, and a mass timber structure using concrete cores for lateral stability. In all four instances, the researchers used a robust methodology and posited that both cost and carbon emissions could be reduced simultaneously.

In the case of the mass timber structure, a 45 per cent reduction in embodied carbon was found to be theoretically possible, alongside a 5 per cent reduction in capital costs. Research like this suggests that savvy quantity surveyors with embodied carbon knowledge can have a positive impact on project planning.

Greater efficiency will not compromise on building quality either; indeed, this long-term view will lead to more resilient materials being selected, reducing both capital expenditure as well as repair, replacement and maintenance costs over the life of the building.

Adopting a Future-Proof Software Solution

iTWO costX® by RIB Software is built to support a variety of quick and easy embodied carbon workflows. Relevant data and formulae can be efficiently input, or else dragged and dropped from Dimension Groups, to produce simple and actionable projections. This data can then be output using the iTWO costX® Standard Report Writer according to the specifications of your client.

RIB Software products are constantly developed to suit the latest needs of the industry, and the company is dedicated to playing its role in a more sustainable future. RIB recently signed a partnership with non-profit organisation Building Transparency, who have developed a free database-driven tool called the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). This handy technology solution allows cost consultants to make projections with greater confidence, as it features a robust store of third-party verified emissions data for building materials.

To find out more about iTWO costX’s potential for embodied carbon estimating, feel free to contact your local RIB office today!