Arup to conduct whole lifecycle carbon assessments for building work

A move by a leading engineering consultancy to assess the full carbon impacts of all its buildings has drawn attention to the wider industry’s decarbonisation plans.

Last week, Arup pledged to conduct whole lifecycle carbon assessments for all its building work and not to pursue any new fossil fuel projects from next year to slash its climate impact. Director Eva Hinkers told ENDS she believes Arup is the first big consultancy to make both these commitments. 

The company already conducts some degree of lifecycle assessment, but doing it for all buildings will be a big leap. “We are making a significant investment in learning, tools, and training for our global teams to embed standardised methods for assessing whole lifecycle carbon,” says Hinkers. “We also will be developing a methodology to extend whole lifecycle carbon assessments to our infrastructure work for clients without delay.”

Matthew Farrow, director of the Environmental Industries Commission and director of policy at the Association of Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), notes that decisions within the built environment are often centred on the question of embedded versus operational carbon - and the tradeoffs between them. 

He says lifecycle assessments can be challenging, given the sheer range of potential building materials, the many ways in which a building might be used over its lifespan and the complexities of getting accurate data standardised across all projects. But once completed they “give people data to actually make those really important decisions, to make those assets as net zero compatible as possible”. 

Arup estimates that less than 1% of building projects around the world are currently evaluated in a way that quantifies the scale and source of carbon emissions generated during their lifespans. A poll of ACE members, published during COP26, shows that only 19% of large consultancies and 21% of SMEs fully calculate embodied and whole-life carbon in the designs they produce. 

Hinkers said the real power of Arup’s latest commitment will be if other companies follow suit. “The whole industry needs to rapidly get to a point where it is conducting whole lifecycle assessments as standard and sharing the insights gained to help us all move to net zero.”

Will Arnold, head of climate action at the Institution of Structural Engineers, said he supported Arup’s moves, saying they show “the willingness of industry to do what is necessary to decarbonise in line with international ambition”.

The industry is getting more serious about decarbonisation. The AEC survey shows that 90% of large consultancies and half of SMEs have made or signed up to a public net zero pledge.

Arup had already committed to go net zero by 2030 and is a member of the UK Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment alongside organisations such as BAM, The Crown Estate and Wilmott Dixon. 

To coincide with yesterday’s cities, regions and built environment themed-day at COP26, the Green Building Council launched a ‘Whole life carbon roadmap for the built environment’ to help decarbonise the construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.

On the same day, housing minister Christopher Pincher rejected planning permission for the Tulip, a huge new tower planned for London, citing among other things its embodied carbon emissions.