Australia as a nation has committed to a goal of zero net emissions by 2050 in an aim to reach the targets set out by the Paris Agreement, to keep our global warming to below 2 degrees and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible . Currently we are not on target to meet these obligations, which is concerning as some studies published by scientists believe that a warming of 2 degrees will have devastating impacts on Australia and many other countries. With the built environment making a significant contribution to this number, we as designers need to be able to accurately measure the impact our designs are having, and be able to receive live feedback of the choices we are making thought the decision process. But are the tools (and minimum outcomes required of these tools) we are using doing enough to keep us on track to reach our targets?
Australia has several different rating tools which analyse our buildings performance and although we are seeing progress with buildings becoming more energy efficient, it is mainly operational carbon of a building that is currently being measured by mandatory rating tools such as NatHERS, NaBERS and the Green star rating tools. “As much as half a new building’s life cycle emissions are locked in at the start of the design” (Noller 2020) This means by the time the building receives a rating from one of these rating systems, these emissions are long gone with the tools ignoring the embodied carbon that has been emitted during the start up of the design/construction. This is a problem, especially when more carbon is expelled in the construction of the building, than over the whole lifecycle of the building and meaning there really needs to be a shift towards looking at whole life cycle for a true measure of sustainability.
As an example, I want to examine the Bloomberg HQ building, which was designed by Foster and Partners in London, UK. The building has received the world’s highest “BREEM” rating for an office building and has been praised for it’s ‘sustainable design’, scoring a 98.5% BREEM score and has now become a precedent for other designers when looking to design sustainably. Sadly, this score doesn’t really encompass the full truth, and when you take a closer look at the design, the building has used an enormous amount of embodied carbon in the start up of the building, with its heavyweight construction, reliance on imported materials and optimization for performance, it has maximised the resources needed to create it, which has not been reflected in this outstanding BREEM rating. In my opinion, this is no longer a truly sustainable building and we need to start turning our focus to the embodied carbon and whole life cycle of design.
There are several measuring tools that are available to measure the embodied carbon of a design, however as of yet, there is no mandatory assessment for embodied carbon assessment tools. This leaves it up to company’s to choose what method they use to calculate their embodied carbon, there is nothing that allows us to compare designs which have been measured using different tools.  Without consistency of what tools different designers are using, how can we count on them to be reliable and accurate in measuring our efforts to reach our net zero building targets? The measuring tool that has recently been released by the Footprints Company, which is guided by the Greenbrook, could be a great tool to be adopted as Australian standard as it is aimed at providing measurable benchmarks for “climate responsive” design. It looks at embodied carbon specifically in response to the Australian climate, which other tools fail to do, which is a problem when embodied carbon relies on many factors (energy used in manufacturing, transportation, extraction method/location of raw materials etc), which vary greatly from region to region. Much like NABERS the tool gives you a star rating for your design, and also gives you a minimum to achieve in order to be Paris compliant (minimum of 5 stars) which allows us to then directly compare our results with our targets,
“Architects, on the whole, are failing to think deeply about the short and long-term carbon impact of the materials they use and the principles of the circular economy.” (Hurst 2019) This hasn’t been helped with rating tools that haven’t been able to give us the answers we need to solve this global issue. This needs to change if we want to achieve our zero carbon building targets, introducing an across the board, mandatory rating system that can be compared,is accurate, and is able to hold us accountable for our actions and move us to a more holistic approach, not just having a sole focus on the operation carbon of our designs.
 “ACHIEVING NET-ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050”. 2016. Environment.Nsw.Gov.Au. https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Climate-change/achieving-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-fact-sheet-160604.pdf.
 “Department Of Industry, Science, Energy And Resources”. 2015. Department Of Industry, Science, Energy And Resources. https://publications.industry.gov.au/publications/climate-change/climate-change/publications/factsheet-australias-2030-climate-change-target.html.
 2020. Climatechangeauthority.Gov.Au. Accessed May 8. http://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/prod.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/submissions/2015/caps-targets-review/54-Friends-of-the-Earth.pdf.
 Hurst, Will. 2019. “Why Architects Need To Wake Up To The Carbon Emergency”. Architects Journal. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/why-architects-need-to-wake-up-to-the-carbon-emergency/10040407.article.
 STURGIS, SIMON. 2018. “RIBA Stirling Prize 2018: The Most Sustainable Shortlist Ever?”. Architects Journal. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/opinion/riba-stirling-prize-2018-the-most-sustainable-shortlist-ever/10035714.article.
 Busch, Tobias. LetterKatrina Saitta to . 2020. “Measuring Tools Of Sustainable Design”. Email, , 2020.
“ACHIEVING NET-ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050”. 2016. Environment.Nsw.Gov.Au. https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Climate-change/achieving-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-fact-sheet-160604.pdf.
Noller, Caroline. 2020. “The Greenbook Frontpage – New | The Footprint Company: Greenbook”. The Footprint Company: Greenbook. https://footprintgreenbook.com/#order.
Hurst, Will. 2019. “Why Architects Need To Wake Up To The Carbon Emergency”. Architects Journal. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/why-architects-need-to-wake-up-to-the-carbon-emergency/10040407.article.
Johnston, Poppy. 2019. “Embodied Carbon Gets Its Own Star Rating Tool – Now For The Revolution”. The Fifth Estate. https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/articles/embodied-carbon-gets-its-own-star-rating-tool-now-for-the-revolution/.
STURGIS, SIMON. 2018. “RIBA Stirling Prize 2018: The Most Sustainable Shortlist Ever?”. Architects Journal. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/opinion/riba-stirling-prize-2018-the-most-sustainable-shortlist-ever/10035714.article.
“Department Of Industry, Science, Energy And Resources”. 2015. Department Of Industry, Science, Energy And Resources. https://publications.industry.gov.au/publications/climate-change/climate-change/publications/factsheet-australias-2030-climate-change-target.html.
Busch, Tobias. LetterKatrina Saitta to . 2020. “Measuring Tools Of Sustainable Design”. Email, , 2020.
- Climatechangeauthority.Gov.Au. Accessed May 8. http://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/prod.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/submissions/2015/caps-targets-review/54-Friends-of-the-Earth.pdf.