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Embodied carbon gets its own star rating tool – now for the revolution

Barangaroo tower 1 building
Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Star rating tools, such as NABERS and Green Star, have been instrumental in driving Australia’s world-leading green building movement. Now there’s a new kid on the block – a star rating scheme for embodied carbon.

Much like the NABERS 6-star rating system for operational carbon intensity, the new star rating system by The Footprint Company measures the embodied carbon intensity of whole buildings and specifies a star performance level.

The creation of the tool has been no easy feat according to the company’s chief executive officer Dr Caroline Noller. It’s taken until now to gather enough robust data and knowledge from experts around the world to have confidence in the “game-changing” star rating tool.

She expects the tool to accelerate the industry’s engagement with the embodied carbon issue.

The global building industry has traditionally focused on operational carbon emissions but is now waking up to the embodied carbon problem (the amount of greenhouse gas released in the production of building materials).

Noller says that as much as half a new building’s life cycle emissions are locked in at the start of the design, long before Green Star starts its assessments.

Critically, the tool will provide clear and measurable benchmarks for “climate responsible” properties.

“Everyone understands star ratings so well,” she says.

These types of tools take the guess work out of decision making for investors, such as most major industry super funds, that have made commitments to responsible investments.

Noller says Australia has led the way on tackling operational emissions in the built environment but lags behind countries such as the UK when it comes to dealing with embodied carbon. With tools to make better calculations, she hopes Australia can catch up and become a leader in “Paris-complaint buildings”.

How it works

Much like NABERS, 3.5 stars represents the current standard and every star increase represents a 20 per cent reduction in embodied carbon intensity. To be Paris compliant, a building design needs 5 stars.

To rate a building, designers use the company’s online calculator or specify out to the market for a consultant to provide a whole building carbon footprint.

Embodied carbon materials guide book

The new rating tool has been launched as part of the 2020 edition of The GreenBook, which Noller describes as a “relatively affordable guide to building Paris-compliant buildings.”

Noller says the first edition, published last year,  broke new ground by visually presenting the carbon footprint of different materials.

The guide is pitched at designers, who are on the front line of building material decisions. Noller says the guide makes it easy for a designer to decide between a carpet or a tile, based on the carbon footprint of each.

Users include the big architecture firms – especially those that have declared a climate emergency – and the major universities.

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