Carbon calculation

Almost two years ago, when I was helping (un)organise the first Be2camp ‘unconference’ event in London, the sustainability theme that underpins this built environment/social media advocacy movement attracted contributions from several people with an active interest in calculating and then reducing the carbon footprint of the architecture, engineering and construction, AEC, sector (we had talks, for example, from Jamie Andrews of AMEE and Tom Chance of BioRegional – both extolling the virtues of carbon calculation). This has been a recurring theme at Be2camp events since 2008; for example:

  • Usman Haque has talked about Pachube‘s connected environments using sensor data to provide real-time energy use data
  • Alex Albon has incorporated carbon calculation into the business proposition for EarthExchange‘s construction waste reduction and recycling community platform, and
  • Be2camp Brum 2009 heard from Claire Hardwick about how Family Housing Association was helping Summerfield residents reduce their energy use, through use of smart meters.

Since 2008, AMEE has developed a web-based tool that accurately records the carbon footprinting of construction client fit-out and refurbishment projects, piloted by fit-out company Overbury (case study). And fellow Be2camp co-founder Martin Brown is one of the people behind the release of ConstructCO2, developed through Evolution-ip, “by construction people for construction use” (see his blog post). All of these efforts have the potential to contribute to the low carbon construction agenda championed by the UK’s chief construction advisor Paul Morrell (see my pwcom blog posts here and here).

I was interested therefore when I got an email from Croydon, UK-based CarbonCalculated‘s Jason Green inviting me to look at his company’s online offering:

“We offer a Construction Carbon Calculator which calculates the embodied emissions of construction projects. It is the only system of it’s kind available and can be used for small builds, re-furbishments, civils projects all the way up to massive construction projects.”

While one might quibble about the claim to be ‘the only system of its kind available’, the Construction Carbon Calculator offers some simple-to-use online tools to calculate embodied emissions on construction projects, breaking these down into four main categories (there are some good explanatory videos on Vimeo):

  • materials (and associated modes of delivery)
  • waste management
  • energy consumption on-site
  • commuting (all journeys made by project team members, clients, etc).

Sustainability credentials

As with the other systems, report outputs can be used to document the quantifiable carbon reduction achievements of companies and projects. This is useful, of course, for team members looking to demonstrate their sustainability credentials in pre-qualification questionnaires, tenders, etc, or to provide practical evidence of a client’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). Liz Collett, group environmental manager at Overbury, for example, sums up the benefits:

“Working with AMEE enabled us to deliver a tool that enables our clients to understand the carbon impact of their projects. Being able to use the AMEE engine adds traceability and rigour to our assessments which is what our clients require.”

An attribute shared by all the offerings is their reliance on a cloud-based model, with all the tools being accessed via the web. This clearly makes sense as the underlying formulae used to calculate carbon footprints will vary overtime as new scientific data becomes available, and hosting all the background data would require constant software updates.

It would be interesting to marry this carbon calculation process up more tightly with collaboration over design and construction, so that teams could quickly evaluate different design (eg: steel versus concrete frame), or construction options (in-situ construction versus off-site fabrication, for example), identify local suppliers during procurement, or look at logistical issues such as delivery consolidation centres or shared transport of site personnel. Collating data from across multiple sites on a common industry basis would also be useful in creating and maintaining key performance indicators – benchmarks against which teams, clients and regulators can then measure their compliance and performance and help deliver real low carbon construction.

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