James Fiske, CEO BCIS

A free-to-access embodied carbon database has been launched by the Building Cost Information Service (BCIS) with a rallying cry for the industry to unite behind it. 

The first data repository of its kind, the Built Environment Carbon Database (BECD) is designed to help drive down carbon emissions by enabling users to both submit data to, and download data from it, to facilitate consistent carbon estimating and benchmarking. 

It has been funded and developed by BCIS in collaboration with a range of leading organisations and professional bodies from across the built environment over the last three years.

BCIS CEO James Fiske, who chairs the BECD steering group said: “The built environment industry has a moral and ethical responsibility to take action.

“In the absence of the government taking a lead and mandating carbon assessments, it’s really up to us as an industry to drive this forward.

“About 40% of global greenhouse emissions come from the built environment and, if we don’t do anything about it, that’s predicted to double by 2050.  

“We have to ensure that, regardless of what job we’re fulfilling in the industry, we all influence the reduction of carbon emissions in one way, shape or form.” 

During the live launch of the BECD, a webinar with an audience of almost 800 people, representing the breadth of the construction industry, attendees were polled on their perceptions of and current practices around carbon measurement and reporting. 

Encouragingly, 76% said they, or their organisation, would not scale back their own approach to carbon reduction in light of the government’s recent change of net zero strategy, though 19% said they didn’t know if they would. Most attendees (84%) said they did not support the government’s new strategy. 

The majority of respondents said whole-life carbon assessments should either already be mandatory for all UK construction projects (44%) or be made mandatory within 12 months (20%). 

The lack of decreed reporting in the industry is apparent in current practice, especially where there is inconsistency in methodology and varying levels of commitment to reducing emissions, from clients and investors, among other stakeholders. 

Out of 436 respondents for whom it was relevant to their role, only 27% said they always report on embodied carbon, while 42% said they occasionally do, if asked. One-quarter said they never do, but would like to. 

When asked if they felt adequately trained and supported to be able to calculate and report carbon emissions, 41% said ‘somewhat, but could use some help’ and 30% said ‘yes, but I wish it was easier’. Only 16% said yes confidently, and 14% said ‘no, it’s all too confusing’. 

With many attendees reporting less than sufficient training and support, having a skilled workforce able to carry out the work is crucial, a is the need for an agreed set of rules, provided by the recently updated RICS Professional Standard on Whole Life Carbon Assessment, and compliant software that can work alongside the BECD. 

Fiske added: “There are dozens and dozens of carbon calculators out there in the industry, all working in different ways, some including and excluding things that others aren’t. These are great to start making the right decisions, but they won’t get us all the way there. Some aren’t compliant with the RICS Standard, which makes it much more difficult to compare outputs and learn from each other. 

“The BECD is step one. It’s an opportunity to make the industry consistent, but it’s use it or lose it. We desperately need to reduce emissions in the built environment and the BECD is our best chance at sharing our experiences for everyone’s benefit. I implore everyone to use it and not to let it become another footnote in the history of things we could have done to combat climate change, but let the opportunity pass us by.

The BECD consists of two databases for carbon assessments, for assets – at a building or project level – and products, typically from EPDs (environmental product declarations). 

Projects can be added, with either full visibility to other users or anonymously, with different assessments covering the stages from design through to operation. The BECD is being launched with more than 34,000 data entries from EPDs, with users urged to add data from their own projects. 

Find out more about the BECD at www.becd.co.uk 

As the BECD grows, BCIS is also launching a free Carbon Newsletter, which will keep subscribers informed about new developments and provide commentary on the latest carbon news in the built environment. 

For more information about BCIS, visit the website at www.bcis.co.uk