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  • Writer's pictureKaren Fletcher

The SectorScope report: RICS Global Whole Life Carbon Assessment 2023

Updated: Jan 18

The Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) introduced its updated Whole Life Carbon Assessment (WLCA) in October 2023. The WLCA is already a well-known carbon measurement tool in the UK, and this second edition (the first was introduced in 2017) is set to go global.



Building in progress
Tracking carbon in the built environment

The updated RICS WLCA goes live from 1st July 2024. It has been introduced now to allow RICS to provide training and advice to members on its use. Some projects are already applying the new standard.


Chairing a webinar about the new document, Simon Rawlinson, Partner at Arcadis, noted that the Standard is supported by many areas of UK government, including the Department of Transport and Zero Waste Scotland. It is also cited in local planning regulations such as the London Plan.


Dr Jane Anderson, director of Construction LCA, is co-author of the updated RICS Professional Statement on Whole Life Carbon. She highlighted some key features of the 2023 Assessment:


* It now includes infrastructure projects

* It is much clearer on how to assess refurbishment and retrofit projects.

* Surveyors can use the Assessment to integrate carbon calculations and costings.


Dr Anderson said: “This Assessment provides consistency. For the UK, we provide clear defaults so that projects use similar figures, which supports better benchmarking.”


Closely linked to the RICS Whole Life Carbon Assessment is the Built Environment Carbon Database (BECD) which launched on 5th October 2023. It has been designed in collaboration with leading construction bodies, including BRE, Carbon Trust, RIBA, UKGBC, CIBSE and RICS. Also involved were Arup, Aecom, the Department for Transport, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and Skanska.



Looking at data
Quality data is key to carbon measurement

The vision for the BECD is that it becomes the main source of carbon estimating and benchmarking for the UK construction sector. The database will collect and supply product data and entity-level data to the industry through its own portal by interacting with existing databases and software solutions.


Alan Northen, Managing Director of Northen Surveying Services, pointed to the importance of accurate data for carbon calculations: “Surveyors understand the importance of good quality, accurate data. We need to provide independence for clients by presenting facts and figures. Data sources for assessments such as EPDs can be of variable quality. The BECD will supply the data we need.”


There is no doubt that the need for carbon assessments of new and existing buildings is growing. Simon Rawlinson said: “Carbon assessment is informing lending behaviours.”

Amit Patel, Head of Professional Practice – Construction at RICS, agreed: “There is better value for investors if the whole life carbon of a project is assessed. Government bodies take this view as well. Looking at carbon is directly linked to the value of the building.”



London city skyline
GLA requires WLC assessments

Dr Anderson added: “Carbon assessment is increasingly mandatory for example the GLA requires large projects to have WLC assessments using the RICS approach. Manchester and other councils also have this on their agenda.”


Chris Seymour (FRICS) is Head of Strategy and Investment for Mott MacDonald in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He noted that the focus on carbon is a global phenomenon: “We are seeing the use of the RICS Assessment in the Middle East. Asset owners need to decarbonise their portfolios and banks want to decarbonise their holdings.”


He added that accuracy in calculations is becoming more important: “Where carbon tonnage is required on loan applications, there has not been much pushback on figures to date. But it will become more focused on accuracy. The RICS WLCA is UK-focused, but the practicalities can be transferred globally. It gives a standard way to measure carbon across the whole life of a building.”


The RICS WLCA can be used alongside other schemes. Jane Anderson commented: “Within BREEAM and LEED there are credits for carrying out carbon assessments. We have worked with BREEAM to align how we apply credits, so they will work together close.”


With the re-use of existing buildings now widely encouraged, the application of this Assessment to retrofits is important. Chris Seymour noted: “Surveyors can help clients with insights into how carbon retrofitting can add value to existing assets.”



Discussing data to make decisions
Helping clients understand options

Amit Patel added: “When we are looking at costs as surveyors, we are also now looking at carbon. We can give the client options and help them to understand long-term outcomes. For example, they could use this material and the financial cost is X and the carbon emissions are Y. It helps to give weight to those decisions.”


Alan Nothen said that it is important to help clients take a long-term approach: “They have to look at what they’ll be doing in a few years’ time, not just today. We need to show not only costs but also value for the future.”


Building owners and developers today face an increasing range of challenges. Financial costs cannot continue to dominate discussions about buildings; at the same time the focus on carbon emissions must be granular. There are questions to be addressed at every stage.

For example, use of lightweight materials in the building can help to reduce the amount of concrete required for foundations. Sourcing materials also needs to include thinking around use of recycled or reclaimed materials – and how those products will be treated at their end of life.


Going forward, the vision for the RICS WLCA is that it will provide more accurate data and benchmarking through the BECD. “Benchmarks are not static, and targets will get higher,” warned Dr Anderson.


Chris Seymour agreed with this sentiment: “Don’t underestimate the importance of carbon measurement. It’s going to become extremely important globally. The requirement for enhanced reporting on carbon emissions will be introduced soon.”



EU flag
The EU ESG reporting requirements

One example of this is the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive which will apply from 2024 (financial year) to EU and non-EU companies with activities within the EU. Building-related emissions are included.


The impact of buildings on the environment is now well-known and understood, so the imperative must be to make decisions that will make a difference. As Amit Patel concluded: “We have to undo the last one hundred years in the next thirty. This tool will help to take us forward.”

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