Carbon Cost Management: Five Steps to Net Zero

17th January 2023

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Cop 27’s message to the construction sector was clear. Industry leaders are in a position of real power to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. It’s vital we step up and decarbonise.

In response to the call to action, Soben recently held a series of webinars for construction professionals to discuss how to reduce carbon, without compromise. In this article, Soben Director, Pieter Schaap shares his five key takeaways from the sessions – practical advice for construction companies to chart a path to net zero.


The construction industry and CO2 emissions

CO2 emissions can be traced to constructing and maintaining buildings. The construction industry is responsible for two types of carbon emissions:


  • Embodied carbon accounts for the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting building materials, constructing buildings, and maintaining them.
  • Whole Life Carbon considers a broader picture of a building’s carbon impact on the environment. This number includes the emissions produced in using a building over its entire lifetime, including embodied carbon, emissions from its use, and disposal of construction materials when the building is demolished.


The Paris agreement of 2015, signed by 196 countries, set out goals to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, thereby reducing the risk of irreversible damage to our ecosystems. To achieve this goal, it was agreed that the construction industry should achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


Five steps to create an effective net zero carbon strategy

If you’re like the 28% of attendees at our recent Carbon webinar who don’t yet have a clear net zero strategy in place, here are five practical steps you should be taking to get started with an actionable roadmap.


1. Determine your scope

First, you must agree on the parameters of your greenhouse gas inventory. To create a clear picture of your emissions, be sure to consider the three scopes, as set out by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Scope 1: Direct emissions. The emissions from company-owned or controlled sources, such as those from the diesel in company vehicles or generators on your sites.

Scope 2: Indirect greenhouse gas emissions from purchased energy consumption for example, purchased electricity at your sites or offices.

Scope 3: All other indirect emissions in your value chain. That is to say, emissions that result from assets which are not owned or controlled by your organisation, but directly impact your path to create a project. This is usually split into two sub-groups:

      • Upstream –emissions from the construction of a building, such as transportation and distribution of goods, procurement of materials, waste generated in operations, employee commuting and business travel.
      • Downstream—emission from the operation and maintenance of that building, such as end-of-life treatment of construction materials and its use.


2. Measure the footprint of your current projects. 

Your reporting should be based on all six of the greenhouse gases most responsible for global warming. Identify hotspots and where your carbon cost is the greatest. For most companies, most emissions fall under the direct realm of the business, in Scope 3—often, as much as 80%. Agree on a strategy to reduce these emissions.


3. Implement your emission reduction strategy 

Begin your efforts by focussing on the most polluting aspects of the business, and then gradually start to tackle other areas. Be sure to track actions you’ve taken, and create processes to regularly measure their impact.


4. Offset emissions which cannot be reduced

Carbon offsetting should be a last resort, reserved for only the emissions which are hardest to decarbonise by reduction alone.


5. Disclose your emissions and reduction actions

Your reports on your greenhouse gas emissions should be publicly available. Publishing them will hold you accountable to stakeholders for revisions and improvements, demonstrating to the market that you’re making real change, rather than ‘marking your own homework’ favourably. A great report should be:

    • Complete: and account for all greenhouse gas emission sources and activities within the chosen boundaries.
    • Consistent: and follow the same set of methodologies as the previous report, to allow for meaningful comparisons of emissions over time.
    • Transparent: and address relevant issues in a factual and coherent manner, based on a clear audit trail.
    • Accurate: and ensure that the quantification of greenhouse gas emissions is reported with precision and in good faith.


Balancing profitability and climate responsibility

There is a tendency to see decarbonisation efforts as a financial burden, especially in light of new regulations which apply unevenly across the world.  However, at Soben we believe that if you embed sustainability in your business model correctly, and at the right time, you will not lose any business. In fact, you will likely increase revenues and margins.


Carbon cost management: A granular approach

Responsible carbon management is an obligation to the future of our planet, a demand mandated by increasingly stringent legislation, and, at times, a requirement that opens space for innovation. However, creating accurate Whole Life Carbon assessments can be challenge – from gaps in BIM models and unreliable baseline data to the need to upskill employees.

Interested in hearing more from Pieter and Soben Head of Sustainability Dr Bonahis Oko, on how to reduce carbon, without compromise? Watch the full webinar today:

Soben’s Carbon Cost Management service is designed to help organisations achieve net zero carbon affordably and sustainably. We combine industry-leading carbon insights with experienced cost management to go beyond carbon accounting and provide practical carbon cost management advice. Click here to find out more.