Chapter 7
Make carbon visible through improved data access and quality
Make carbon visible through improved data access and quality
Adapt norms and standards to allow for the use of alternative or lower-carbon building materials and construction practices
Accelerate the industry transition
Ensure a just transition
Strengthen international action and collaboration for collective impact

Make carbon visible through improved data access and quality

7.2.1 Environmental labelling standards and certifications

There is a need for international environmental labelling standards with established standard protocols and licensed third-party verification for building materials as well as buildings. To ensure the validity of the claims and to facilitate fair competition among producers, transparent, scientifically sound methods and documentation are required. Currently, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) specifies the protocols for all self-declared environmental claims of materials, including what statements, terms and/or graphics are permitted, and provides qualifications and verification methodology. However, regulation and enforcement to ensure compliance is still severely lacking in most sectors, leading to potentially negative market effects.

Rising public interest in environmentally sound construction practices has led to a flood of self-declared environmental claims from material producers, with limited traceability – generating scepticism and backlash. For certification to facilitate a transition to low-carbon materials in a fair and equitable manner, more development is required for methods that address another “carbon loophole,” so that the consumers and specifiers of materials in countries with strict pollution controls share the onus for the decarbonisation of the materials they consume with producers from regions with no or minimal controls.

Key Action

Promote clear and consistent standards for carbon labelling.

At the very least, all material products should be certified with international standards such as the GHG Protocol Product Standard, ISO14067 or PAS2050. However, there are still so many barriers to getting these standard certifications, and far more support needs to be given to smaller enterprises, particularly in developing regions if there is to be a realistic expectation of fairness across suppliers.

Support for enforcing fair regulation is absolutely critical, if labels are to be taken seriously in many markets that currently eschew the cost of certification.

Need to address the backlash from rampant perceptions of ‘greenwashing’ in the marketplace.

7.2.2 Lifecycle analysis of building materials in construction and renovation projects

Common metrics and consistent assessment processes allow decision-makers to accurately weigh the trade-offs in prioritising the different decarbonisation pathways, in order to accurately inform efforts to set standards and trade policy. Often just making this data visible (e.g. through labels) can have effects on which pathways are chosen and pursued. However, further development, international cooperation and coordination is urgently required in order to ensure fairness with accurate and transparent data. Many tools are on the market that allow a calculation of the carbon footprint of building materials which is a great first step, however the accuracy and relevance of the data needs substantial development in regulatory and verification procedures. The data availability, especially in developing country contexts needs to be vastly improved. Nevertheless, there are now many tools, such as the EDGE tool, that allow for an assessment of alternatives already, and these methods need to be encouraged in order to spur further development.

Going forward, more sophisticated tools can be further developed to capture the beneficial impacts of computer-aided production methods – from efficiencies in materials and structures to reductions in on-site emissions – and the improved ability of computer-aided, factory-based production to reduce material waste and support design for disassembly and circular re-use. This could also include the value and requirements of non-human living systems. Thus, the values in whole life-cycle assessments need to expand to include the work of the geo-biosphere, because in some cases it has taken millions or even billions of years for the Earth to form certain raw materials – such as the iron ore required to make steel – that are therefore irreplaceable, but even seemingly abundant bio- or earth-based materials have highly variable impacts depending on their origin (Keena and Dyson 2017).

Key Action

Promote evidence-based material selection

Mandate the assessment of the carbon impact of building materials (LCA) in construction and renovation projects.

Key Action

Increase the availability of high-quality and improved methodological development.

Fund research to determine best practices for life-cycle analysis of ecosystem impacts, as well as research and methodological development for whole life-cycle assessments that include the geo-biosphere.

7.2.3 Improve access to data

Knowledge about the embodied carbon content of the current building stock is needed for calculating emission baselines and setting mitigation targets, and for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV).

Key Action

Improve access to traceable, transparent, reliable and verifiable data.

Purchase, provide or subsidise data needed for assessments for key stakeholders such as developers in contexts where these data are cost-prohibitive.

Dramatically increase the support for ongoing tool development and use for stakeholders across the supply chain to be able to make rapid design and procurement decisions and be able to verify the provenance of materials in real time.

Encourage digitalisation and the development of building passports to assist in standardising data and making them traceable, transparent, and verifiable.

Fund research to further develop data banks that can support fair certification and labelling of materials and buildings.