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Huge potential: Australia’s opportunity to cut embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure

Embodied carbon

23 November 2021

Embodied carbon emissions in materials used in Australia’s building and construction sector are the next frontier to significantly reduce carbon emissions, according to a new report released by the CEFC.

The report, Australian buildings and infrastructure: Opportunities for cutting embodied carbon, identifies great potential in the building sector to cut emissions, finding that on average, sustainability rated infrastructure projects achieve a reduction of up to 33 per cent in embodied carbon compared to similar designs with no such measures.

This important new industry resource was developed in collaboration with the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) and provides practical guidance on how the building sector can reduce its carbon footprint through innovative approaches to new manufacturing materials and cutting-edge design.

It also helps quantify the decarbonisation challenges in the sector and identifies the solutions and opportunities for the sector to reduce its carbon footprint. Importantly, it outlines material and design initiatives that can reduce embodied carbon in the built environment.

Embodied carbon emissions occur during the resource extraction, manufacturing and transportation to construction site of materials used in a building or an infrastructure asset. It is expected to account for almost half of total emissions from new constructions between 2019 and 2050. Up to 10 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions come from embodied carbon and 28 per cent of emissions come from the building and construction sector globally.

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said: “This important analysis shows that cost effective solutions can be implemented now to significantly reduce embodied carbon. Australian developers and builders don’t have to choose between sustainability and saving on costs. The research shows that it is possible to achieve as much as 18 per cent reduction in embodied carbon and save as much as a three per cent reduction in material costs for typical building and infrastructure projects.

“The CEFC has an impressive track record in working with investors, asset owners and developers to cut emissions right across our built environment. This report is a valuable resource that shows new and effective ways to further decarbonise the built environment, to deliver sustainable and cost-effective growth and development.”

The report outlines several material and design initiatives for reducing embodied carbon, as well as the associated cost implications. Alternative solutions such as geopolymer concrete, concrete ad-mixtures, recycled materials and high strength steels all have the potential to substantially lower emissions from embodied carbon.

The Australia Government Low Emissions Technology Statements, issued as part of the Technology Investment Roadmap, identify the use of low emissions materials in steel and aluminium as priority technologies with high abatement and economic potential in areas where Australia has a comparative advantage. The Australian Government is also encouraging investment to support the development of low emissions cement under the Low Emissions Technology Statement.

The economic value of the Australian construction materials sector is approximately $65 billion. As the market continues to mature in its awareness of embodied carbon materials, demand for low embodied carbon solutions could result in a potential billion dollar low carbon solutions market in coming years.

CEFC Director and Joint Head of Property Michael Di Russo added: “Materials and design expertise are improving at a rapid rate, which means low carbon building is a reality now. Understanding and implementing embodied carbon empowers designers, engineers and builders to better manage embodied carbon, delivering a more sustainable approach to these critical assets.”

The CEFC invests to lead in extending the benefits of clean energy across the commercial, industrial and residential property sectors, including through the uptake of international and homegrown innovation in design, materials and technology.

Related CEFC investments include:

  • $54 million debt finance commitment to Northcote Place in Melbourne to build sustainable townhouses featuring a low carbon concrete that reduces embodied carbon by 30 to 60 per cent
  • $95 million commitment to the Roe Highway Logistics Park in Kwinnana, Western Australia, that uses low carbon concrete among other features to achieve carbon neutrality
  • $150 million to implement clean energy solutions at the Moorebank Logistics Park in Sydney, reducing freight truck emissions by increasing the use of rail networks with a forecasted lifetime abatement of 1.5Mt CO2-e from avoided embodied carbon


Find out more about our embodied carbon report at the special CEFC Green Room webinar, Opportunities for cutting embodied carbon, Thursday 2 December 2021 at 11am. Host Michael Di Russo will be joined by Monica Richter, Senior Manager, Low Carbon Futures Program at WWF Australia and Ann Austin, Head of Sustainability Australia at Lendlease.

The Green Room is a CEFC webinar series that takes you inside the investment tent, with insights into industry developments, and the latest on how CEFC investments are helping reduce emissions. 


Media release, 2021

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