The industry needs to get behind a shared carbon database

James Fiske is chief executive of the Building Cost Information Service (BCIS) and chair of the Built Environment Carbon Database Steering Group

Since the consortium of professionals who helped to develop the Built Environment Carbon Database (BECD) first came together almost three years ago, we’ve been really clear about what is needed to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the built environment.

We need a mandate for whole-life carbon assessments to be carried out on all construction projects, an agreed methodology for measuring and reporting emissions, calculators/software that is compliant with that methodology, easy access to consistent data, and a suitably trained and qualified workforce to undertake assessments.

We already have the methodology, as is set out in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) whole-life carbon assessment standard, and now the BECD has been launched to provide a platform for the industry to share and access the data needed.

However, we still lack the government mandate, we have a multitude of calculators and software all using different methodologies, and there are serious questions around the number of suitably qualified and regulated assessors.

I was encouraged by the response we had when recently introducing the BECD to the industry. Not just by the number of people from a wide range of disciplines across the built environment that we brought together, but by their enthusiasm in reducing emissions.

In a poll of attendees, 84 per cent said they do not support the government’s lack of drive to mandate, but more than three-quarters said it wouldn’t lead them or their organisations to dial back their own efforts – and the majority said they believe assessments should either already be mandated, or be mandated within the next 12 months.

It’s impossible, however, to ignore the effect of the current lack of a mandate, which leaves carbon reporting in many areas down to the individual priorities of developers. Only 27 per cent of our poll respondents said they always report embodied carbon, 42 per cent said they occasionally do if asked, and a quarter said they never do but would like to.

In addition, when we asked those who carry out assessments if they feel adequately trained and supported in calculating and reporting emissions, only 16 per cent answered that they confidently do. More than either said they could half use some help, or it was all too confusing.

Limited experience

This feels symptomatic of wider issues we have in the industry, where there is a drive towards utilising more sustainable practices and technology, but a limited workforce with the experience to carry out the rapidly developing roles needed to support this.

A lot of effort has gone into the BECD from the Building Cost Information Service team and all the professionals who have so generously contributed their time and experience in the steering and working groups. However, this is very much the first step, and we need the industry to step up and share its experiences through the BECD – good and bad – for us to learn and improve.

A central, free-to-use and easy-to-access repository will not just facilitate the import and export of data, though that’s clearly a key part of it. With the support of the industry, the BECD also has the potential to encourage collaboration, stimulate debate and to help inform future government policy.

Previously, a lack of consistent data has been cited as one reason for which a mandate might not be appropriate. We have done everything we can to prove that need not be the case. Now we need the industry to rally behind the BECD and show how sharing data, knowledge and experiences can help drive down emissions.

Access the BECD at

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