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Emerging tech essential to helping buildings go green

By Juliet Helmke
21 January 2022 | 1 minute read
Emerging tech essential to helping buildings go green

Australian construction must embrace nascent low-carbon materials and monitoring technology for the country’s real estate to make material gains on going green, an industry expert has advised.

JLL’s head of energy and sustainability, Riccardo Rizzi, is urging those involved in new builds as well as retrofits and renovations to consider the carbon footprint of the work at hand.

Construction contributes a substantial amount to Australia’s annual carbon production. This comes in the form of operation carbon, which is the cost of powering and controlling a building’s climate, as well as embodied carbon, which is the carbon that results from the production, manufacture and transportation of building materials.

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Operational carbon is considered easier to reduce through energy efficiency measures and using more renewables, while embodied carbon is locked into buildings and is estimated to account for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

“There is increasing recognition that we need to address embodied carbon if buildings are to reach true net zero, said Mr Rizzi.

“This can be achieved through a move to alternative building materials, coupled with new technology and software.”

Transformative materials such as self-healing concrete, climate-adaptive smart glass and graphene are currently in various stages of development and testing, while methods of manufacture such as modular construction and 3D printing are already available options for significantly lowering carbon production.

And new monitoring platforms are playing a huge role in allowing those involved in the development and running of buildings to understand the associated environmental costs.

Mr Rizzi points to architectural software platforms, for example, in helping designers adjust both layouts and materials to select the lowest-carbon options, as well as digital twin models that allow full-life carbon performance to be simulated and fed back into building design.

“These are allowing users to understand the impact that optimising their buildings has on their carbon footprint,” he said.

“It’s crucial to allow end users to understand where they are on their sustainable journey,” he added, noting that harnessing these technologies doesn’t have to come at a great financial cost.

The EC3 Calculator, for example, is an open, free database of building materials launched by Building Transparency to show what a product is made of and its environmental impact.

Still, the landscape is wide open for further development. “We’re seeing progress but more platforms for carbon counting and carbon reduction reporting will be needed,” Mr Rizzi said.

Potential government legislation surrounding embodied carbon, as has been introduced in Norway and the state of Colorado in the U.S., could quickly ramp up the pace of innovation in this sector. Currently, education is driving most of the momentum.

“In places where such legislation is implemented, we quickly see people wanting to learn more, and the positive impact on the immediate area is felt soon after,” Mr Rizzi said, estimating that now, up to 10 per cent of projects are factoring in embodied carbon, from zero just a few years ago.

“Education is key. Only a few developers look at their carbon numbers the same way they look at their financials. This will inevitably increase as more people seek more environmentally friendly offices, more environmentally friendly buildings to work in. It will be an increasingly important feature here as it is overseas.”

 

Emerging tech essential to helping buildings go green
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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