Building a cleaner future

The construction industry needs to reduce its carbon footprint urgently. A transparent, data-driven approach will help developers make the right decisions for a more responsible future

Construction has one of the highest carbon footprints of all the industry sectors. A McKinsey Sustainability report published in January found that 10% of global GDP is in sectors with high-emissions supply chains, including construction. And it is embodied emissions, as well as operational emissions, that must be reduced if the industry is serious about meeting net-zero goals.

Embodied carbon emissions come from the carbon footprint of materials. This can be measured throughout the entire supply chain, taking into account extraction of materials, transport, refining, processing, manufacturing, fabrication, usage and end-of-life disposal.
For construction, carbon footprint calculation can be complex and embodied emissions need to be considered. The supply chain includes cement and steel industries, which together account for 14% of global CO2 emissions. The drive towards greener buildings requires construction companies to adapt to new techniques, technologies and materials.
An important first step in decarbonising the construction industry is to ensure companies understand their carbon footprints.

Digital transformation has revolutionised how data is managed across multiple industries and construction is no exception. An engineering platform that enables data gathering and analysis will help construction industry professionals understand the environmental impact of their projects and make good decisions before anyone sets foot on a building site. KBR CleanSPEND is one such technology that helps the construction industry from project inception through to completion, with analysis of lifecycle carbon emissions and data that distinguishes embodied and operational emissions.

Finding best practice ways to calculate the carbon footprint of a construction process from the beginning is essential

David Cole, director of KBR Project Solutions, said the proportion of embodied carbon emissions is “relatively low, but it is expected to increase as the grid decarbonises, the pressure to build new energy facilities increases and operational emissions decrease.”
Improving the entire process is essential for a sustainable circular economy. Steel, for example, is 100% recyclable, but recycled steel only accounts for 30% of global steel demand. Traditional production of one tonne of steel creates 1.9 tonnes of CO2, compared with 0.1 tonnes of CO2 from one tonne of recycled steel produced using renewable energy – this stark comparison highlights the importance of examining embodied emissions.

Cole, and the team at KBR Project Solutions, who invented KBR CleanSPEND, described recycled steel as “a permanent material that underpins the economy, while contributing to environmental goals by reducing the use of virgin raw materials, as well as CO2 emissions.”

Regulatory compliance with stringent environmental standards across different markets makes the need for responsible construction practices more important than ever. In the UK, for example, as well as rigorous new standards for buildings, construction processes need to become cleaner and greener. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s September 2021 report, ‘Decarbonising Construction: Building A New Net Zero Industry,’ recommends reusing building materials when possible, using non-fossil-fuel-powered machinery on construction sites and reducing reliance on imported building materials.

Meanwhile, the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is a climate measure that will have an international impact on construction industry supply chains. EU importers will buy carbon certificates that correspond to the carbon price that would have been paid if the goods were produced under the bloc’s carbon pricing rules. In contrast, non-EU producers that can show they have already paid for carbon used in the third-country production of imported goods can have the corresponding cost deducted for the EU importer. This aims to encourage non-EU operators to green their production processes.

A recent McKinsey report, ‘Seizing the decarbonisation opportunity in construction,’ found: “Design is the most important factor in determining greenhouse gas emissions… The ability to influence emissions is highest very early in a project and before construction has started.” To do this effectively and transparently, finding best practice ways to calculate the carbon footprint of a construction process from the beginning is essential. Comprehensive, data-driven measurement solutions will give companies the insights they need to reduce emissions during the entire construction project. Underpinned by cloud data services and analytics, KBR CleanSPEND allows operators to enter internal and external data and the carbon footprint is calculated based on rules set within the platform. Results, analysis and scenario analytics delivered quickly in a clear format.

If the construction industry is serious about meeting ambitious carbon goals in time for the 2050 net-zero deadline, it needs the right tools for measuring and mitigating environmental impact. It is imperative that a data-driven process of measurement and analysts starts at the design and planning stage, rather than trying to reduce emissions on an ad hoc basis during construction. Solutions such as KBR CleanSPEND will play an increasing role in making smart decisions at the right time for a greener global construction industry.

To find out more, please reach out to David Cole via

Promoted by KBR