Property developers at MIPIM, one of the largest real estate events, are being called on to implement high-impact carbon reduction strategies to immediately halve building project emissions without waiting for new technology.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and global sustainable development consultancy Arup have released the report Net-zero buildings: Halving construction emissions today, focused on reducing upfront embodied carbon in construction. These are the emissions released into the atmosphere during the production and transportation of building materials as well as the construction process.

It encourages property developers, assembling this week at MIPIM to act now, without waiting for major innovations. The report shows that property developers already have the solutions required to start halving up-front embodied carbon emissions immediately, so it asks them to be confident to act.

This builds on a previous publication, Net-zero buildings: Where do we stand?, which showed that as much as 50% of a new, energy-efficient building’s emissions come from embodied carbon. The authors of the report estimate that less than 1% of building projects currently calculate and report their full carbon footprint.

The report provides property developers with clear actions and key strategies to achieve the rapid systemic changes required to meet the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions’ Race to Zero goals for the built environment industry to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

Key recommendations are:

  • Data is key and will drive informed calculation, analysis, and consistent reporting as an enabler of the highest impact.

  • Companies must quickly gain the confidence to treat carbon like money, setting clear budgetary targets.

  • Early well-informed thinking is essential to gain the highest reduction potential.

  • A systemic approach is required as there is no single solution. Collaborative engagement of the entire value chain is the only way we will gain the required reductions.

  • Urgent and decisive action is essential. For the built environment 2030 is today, because buildings in projects now will be finished by 2030.

The report gives practical ways for building designers, owners, and construction firms to use these principles to reduce the carbon in buildings they are creating now. For example, reducing the ‘span’ – the space between columns or supports on the floor of each building – as the engineering solutions required for large ‘spans are typically carbon-intensive – or reducing building height to reduce the need for thicker core walls, bigger columns and larger foundations.

At COP27, Arup announced it had built an international dataset of whole life carbon (WLC) emissions for buildings; calculating emissions for almost 1,000 projects across 30 nations and 5 continents. The firm called on actors across the global property, construction and building design sectors to work together to establish open and comparable WLC datasets.

We must, and we can halve the emissions in the built environment by 2030. Our new report highlights the importance of radical collaboration across the entire value chain to achieve this goal. We identify practical and holistic measures that can be deployed in any building project around the world now – because 2030 is today.

Roland Hunziker

Director, Built Environment at WBCSD