Developing a suite of measures to decarbonise the built environment – RICS

An international coalition of construction experts last month published the world’s first universal standard for reporting carbon emissions in the whole lifecycle of built environment projects.

It is an oft-cited statistic that the built environment makes up 39% of carbon emissions globally. And this is why policy makers around the world are grappling with how to decarbonise the sector. Without real action in our industry, the lofty ambitions of governments will simply not be met. While there is significant focus on reducing operational carbon – the carbon emitted as part of the day-to-day running of buildings – a far trickier, and far more substantial amount of carbon is emitted through embodied carbon – the production, transportation, and use of materials in construction.

Of course, building less and making use of existing assets is key to enabling a transition to net zero. However, there remains a need for new infrastructure in Edinburgh, Scotland, the UK, and across the world, to deliver improved social and economic outcomes for individuals. It is therefore crucial that: 1) Sustainable decisions are made in the development of the built environment; and 2) A method is needed accurately compare the cost and carbon merits of retrofitting existing stock and building new stock.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), alongside a coalition of various organisations from around the world, are developing a suite of standards to help enable these outcomes and drive the decarbonisation of the sector.

International Cost Management Standard, 3rd Edition (ICMS3)was published on 29 November, delivering a consistent method for reporting carbon across the whole life cycle of construction projects, including design, cost, carbon and operations. This standardised and benchmarked data across markets and sectors will enable sustainability to be a key consideration in construction projects and enable a clear assessment of the trade-offs between cost and carbon.

The Built Environment Carbon Databaseis being developed by a range of organisations, including RICS, UK Green Building Council, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Carbon Trust, Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), and various others, to become the main source of carbon estimating and benchmarking for the UK construction sector and a practical instrument to support the decarbonisation of the built environment.

The Whole Life (Lifecycle) Carbon Assessmentis a mandatory professional statement for the Chartered Surveyor profession, including guidance on how to consider embodied and operational carbon within the built environment. Better understanding and consistent measurement of whole life carbon emissions will allow for benchmarking and target setting to tangibly achieve carbon reductions. This is being updated in 2022 to align fully with ICMS3.

Commenting on ICMS3, Head of Construction Standards at RICS and ICMS Lead, Alan Muse, said: “De-carbonisation of construction is now essential to meet the goals of COP 26. Critically, to achieve this, we need globally standardized reporting systems – unless we measure it, we cannot manage it. The use of ICMS 3 will benefit all construction stakeholders who wish to reduce carbon for a combination of compliance, market and societal reasons and also drive innovation in terms of alternative designs and solutions.”

We greatly look forward to working alongside our coalition partners and the wider industry to drive adoption of ICMS3 and the suite of measures above across the public and private sector, enabling a net zero transition across the wide breadth of the built environment.

Contact for further information.

Further information:

  • RICS: ICMS3. Click here.
  • Press Release: Universal method to report carbon in buildings and infrastructure launched. Click here.
  • RICS: Sustainability. Click here.