GBCA: Mass Timber Key to Reducing Upfront Carbon Emissions

The GBCA and Lendlease released a new report, 'A practical guide on reducing upfront carbon emissions'

Thu 01 Jun 23


The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and Lendlease have warned that Australia’s upfront carbon emissions will skyrocket from 16% to 85% of overall building emissions by 2050.

The latest report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) revealed a 66% chance global temperatures would exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, severely impacting people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

What are upfront carbon emissions?

According to the GBCA, upfront carbon emissions are released before the built asset is operational. Upfront carbon covers all activities pre-occupancy, including raw material extraction, the manufacture of materials and their transport site, and the use of machinery and equipment during construction.

Yesterday, the GBCA joined forces with Lendlease to release a new report for the industry – ‘A practical guide on reducing upfront carbon emissions’ with case studies detailing how project teams have reduced their upfront carbon footprint.

The NSW Government and Sustainability Victoria have contributed to the guide, which supports the GBCA’s calculation guide to upfront carbon.

GBCA Chief Executive Davina Rooney says these upfront emissions must be addressed to ensure a sustainable future.

“Today’s buildings need to address tomorrow’s emissions,” Rooney said.

“Reducing our upfront emissions on future projects will have a material impact on reducing climate change, will create benefits for investors who are looking for assets with a clear decarbonisation pathway, and will help to achieve Australia’s decarbonisation goals.”

Mass Timber plays an important role in lowering building emissions

Rooney points to one example of a project that has cut its upfront emissions.

“Lendlease’s project team for 25 King Street in Brisbane made an impactful decision in the design phase to swap out materials like concrete and steel for low carbon options like engineered timber, resulting in upfront emissions savings of almost 40%,” she said.

Lendlease Head of Sustainability Ann Austin says their construction business plays a key role in two core aspects of the company’s ‘Mission Zero’ journey, phasing out the use of fossil fuels in construction and eliminating upfront embodied carbon in their building materials.

“While we’ve delivered 26 engineered timber buildings globally, our research shows more needs to be done to debarbonise steel, concrete, and aluminum – the three leading materials that typically contribute to more than 70% of a building’s embodied carbon footprint,” she said.

In April 2023, delegates from the South Australian CLT timber study tour were welcomed at 25 King builder-owner Lendlease, anchor tenant Aurecon, and Timber Queensland.

One of the most innovative buildings to be constructed in Brisbane’s inner city and opened in 2018 as part of the $2.9 billion renewal of the Brisbane RNA showgrounds, 25 King was, for a time, the largest mass timber office building by gross floor area, in the world.

Upfront carbon emissions critical to meet emission reduction targets

Rooney also says Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney’s CBD saved over 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions during construction by retaining 65% of the building’s original structure and 95% of its core.

“It was just 5 years ago that we were only focused on reducing the operational carbon of an asset,” she said.

“As the grid continues to decarbonise, projects like Quay Quarter Tower show us that it is possible to reduce the emissions from construction, and there is value in redeveloping existing assets.

“But to meet our emissions reductions targets we need this change to happen at scale.”

Last month, World Architectural Festival Judge Mark Thomson wrote a case study for Wood Central outlining the environmental credentials of Quay Tower.

Mark Thomson, World Architecture Festival – Certified Timber judge, said, “The expanded 1970s office tower has been extensively recycled and transformed to create the new state-of-the-art Quay Quarter Tower. A new façade, new building services, doubled tower floor plate size and new podium presents a striking design to the spectacular harbourside city.”


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