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A whole life cycle approach to buildings is needed for real estate to hit Paris Agreement targets, a new report argues.

Investment manager DWS's Decoding Carbon in Real Estate: Strategic implications of taking a whole lifecycle approach report says refurbishment of existing assets and greater use of low carbon materials will give real estate a better chance of reducing its emissions. 

The report notes that embodied carbon in construction accounts for 11% of global emissions. As a consequence, refurbishment is increasingly targeted over development in some markets, such as the UK, where refurbishment is now more common than new development in the London office sector. 

However, regulations and voluntary standards remain behind the curve on embodied carbon, the report says. Neither CRREM nor GRESB have integrated embodied carbon into their assessments, although both are considering this for 2024. And while green building certification regimes LEED and BREEAM both include assessments of carbon on a whole lifecycle basis, the main weighting of scoring is on minimising energy use at the operational stage.

Many nations lack databases detailing the embodied carbon of construction materials, says DWS and existing databases use different materials, assumptions, units of measurement, and standards of data verification, “making the data difficult to compare”. 

The industry needs to balance embodied and operational carbon considerations, DWS says. For example, triple-glazing creates more embodied carbon than double glazing but is 40% more thermally efficient. 

The picture is complicated because whole life carbon assessments can vary widely in their outcomes, depending on methodology. DWS gives the example of the proposed Marks & Spencer store redevelopment on Oxford Street, London, where the carbon lifecycle assessment included in the store’s planning submission was challenged by heritage groups on the basis that flawed assumptions were used to portray a new building as the lower carbon option.

However, a 2021 study by Arup, while demonstrating that refurbishing existing buildings is the lowest carbon option using a whole lifecycle approach, a new building constructed to the highest environmental standards is not significantly worse. 

A rigid focus on refurbishment risks leaving some assets not just stranded but abandoned, Patrizia’s UK & Ireland development chief warns.

In an interview published on the European real estate investment manager’s website, Dan Williams, head of development for the UK & Ireland talks about “brown to green” refurbishments, saying: ““We believe in the opportunity to move brown into green. It is one of those rare examples where there is a strong investment case and, at the same time, it will make a real difference to cities.”

However, he also notes that some buildings simply cannot be refurbished, especially in the office sector. In a difficult office market, investors are reluctant to fund retrofitting a redundant building. The issue is complicated by the fact that many office blocks were only built to last 25-30 years.

“You can end up with weird circular arguments concerning embodied carbon,” Williams said. “Yes, we should be reusing buildings, we shouldn’t be knocking them down, but the question arises: if you can’t reuse them, what do you do with them? This is particularly relevant when there is a housing crisis going on across Europe.”

Property owners and developers need to look again at the impact of construction and redo calculations concerning refurbishment and construction. When developers are looking to construct, Williams said, they need to look to the longer term – up to 100 years, which will also impact costs.

Singapore’s tallest skyscraper will be one of the most sustainable developments in Asia, says architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The US-headquartered firm today unveiled plans for a new 305 metre tall, 63 floor skyscraper at 8 Shenton Way in Singapore’s CBD, which will be developed by Perennial Holdings.

The mixed-use development will seek Singapore Green Mark Platinum certification, meaning energy use will be 55% below the benchmark standard. The building will use part of the foundations onsite and lower carbon materials such as recycled aggregates, engineered bamboo and terracotta to minimise embodied carbon. 

The design features 10,000 square metres of public green space, with planting designed to encourage biodiversity, as well as terraces and sky gardens. It will be directly linked to the Tanjong Pagar MRT station.

8 Shenton Way also incorporates a variety of safety and wellness features, such as contactless technology, antimicrobial materials, enhanced natural air flow and filtration, adaptable interior spaces, and large outdoor spaces.

SOM partner Mustafa Abadan said: "This building will be one of the first post-pandemic mixed-use towers in the world incorporating health and wellness as its primary design drivers. By seeking to achieve the city's newest and most rigorous sustainability standards, our design will establish a new paradigm for resilient and elegant high-rise design in Singapore and beyond."