Robert “Bob” James Pratt is a member of ULI and also managing director, China, and global cohead of design and construction, Tishman Speyer. This is a call to action for ULI Greenprint members and other industry leaders.

A new industry-led initiative by Tishman Speyer China, mindful MATERIALS, and GIGA is pushing for accelerated action on improving the transparency of building materials data, starting with embodied carbon.

Within the Asia Pacific region, population growth and migration to urban areas are expected to lead to 3.3 billion individuals in urban areas by 2050, requiring substantial development to meet their needs. Before tenants occupy and managers operate a building, building construction and development generate embodied carbon, which is defined as the emissions attributed to manufacturing and transporting construction materials, the process of construction, and building disposal.

Globally, buildings contribute about 49 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, of which building materials account for 21 percent, with 11 percent attributed to core and shell and an estimated 10 percent attributed to other building material manufacturing. In China, those figures are even higher, with core and shell materials alone accounting for 28.3 percent of national emissions.

As buildings continue to become more efficient in their operations, embodied carbon will become a larger proportion of buildings’ overall lifetime carbon emissions, making embodied carbon a necessary part of a real estate organization’s climate mitigation strategy. Not addressing embodied carbon overlooks around 50 percent of emissions that will be generated from buildings built from 2020 to 2050 and puts the industry at considerable risk from climate-related disasters.

Climate change is a threat to society, to the economy, and to ecology. Over the past decades, changes in climate have affected certain areas of the world more acutely than others. However, the severity, frequency, and number of areas affected have become global and are steadily getting worse. This doesn’t have to be the case.

The topic of embodied carbon has been gaining momentum in the real estate industry over the past few years. ULI Greenprint’s recent primer on Embodied Carbon in Building Materials for Real Estate highlights the strong business case for reducing embodied carbon: new municipal regulations passing in cities like Vancouver, global green building certification schemes increasingly considering embodied carbon, and the fact that smart design and material selections can reduce embodied carbon without a cost premium. However, the topic is still not well understood or easily measured by many building developers, especially in the context of other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations.

In discussions among the ULI Greenprint Asia Pacific community of practice, real estate members raised the issue of embodied carbon in building materials and the lack of data from manufacturers on the life-cycle impacts of their products. How can a firm specify low-embodied-carbon products in its requests for proposals (RFPs) if the data are not publicly available or are not consistently provided for comparisons? Due to a lack of resources and awareness, this issue is particularly acute in the Asia Pacific region, particularly when considering the volume of global construction that will be taking place in the region over the next few decades. Without adequate, standardized, and accurate data, the real estate industry will struggle to set or measure ESG goals for its developments, starting with embodied carbon.

While embodied carbon is also an area of importance for product manufacturers, feedback has been unanimous in stating that there isn’t enough demand to justify the investment in obtaining the data. The tools and know-how exist to generate this data, though it does involve associated costs. As a result, many building manufacturing companies have been waiting for a clear market request—and this clear market request must come from building owners. This ULI Greenprint dialogue inspired a few industry leaders to take action.

“The collective pursuit of obtaining the basic data the real estate community needs in order to achieve stated ESG and carbon footprint targets is just one step onto the road forward. We can’t get there individually and we can’t get there without taking that step.”—Bob Pratt, managing director at Tishman Speyer, global cohead of design/construction

To build collective market demand, Tishman Speyer China, mindful MATERIALS, and GIGA are collaborating to launch a Common Ask for ESG impact data of building materials, starting with embodied carbon in Asia and applicable globally. We invite like-minded organizations across the built environment to join us in this initiative to drive data transparency in building materials from manufacturers and suppliers. ULI Greenprint and ULI Asia Pacific in particular are sharing the opportunity with their members to get involved and sign on.

This real estate–led initiative encourages manufacturers and suppliers of building materials to provide data transparency on building materials through environmental product declarations (EPDs) and/or life-cycle assessments (LCAs), which include embodied carbon/global warming potential (GWP) data. Signatories of the Common Ask letter specifically state that they will now begin to include requests for ESG impact data in procurement requirements, including requests for proposals (RFPs) and specifications, starting with embodied carbon. Building material data will be made publicly available by manufacturers, while consultants and project teams that can evaluate ESG impact data at the project level will be prioritized. To learn more, read the full letter here.

“The past 12 to 18 months have seen a surge in demand for ESG-related data on building materials; be it climate health [embodied carbon], ecosystem health, social health, or product circularity. However, the demand has been fragmented and siloed, yielding a lot of noise but very little in terms of results. By creating a common request, project owners will be able to improve results while reducing costs.”—Raefer Wallis, CEO of data provider GIGA

To take action, real estate organizations can join the letter and include the Common Ask in all project specifications, with the option to also send the letter straight to suppliers and consultants or promote the initiative globally.

Current signatories include, but are not limited to, Tishman Speyer and NEO, design firms like Perkins + Will, HKS, SOM and WSP, BRE of the BREEAM building certification standard, the RESET Standard, the Philippines Green Building Council, and the China Academy of Building Research, a primary author of the country’s national green building standard and code. Coordinated action on this issue provides an opportunity to reduce the costs of generating and using ESG impact data inclusive of embodied carbon and opens the door for smoother decision-making and low-carbon acquisitions in the future.

The signed letter will launch before the Chinese New Year in the APAC region and continue to collect signatories. Since ESG and embodied carbon data transparency are a global issue, this initiative is designed to grow beyond the Asia Pacific region to include other not-for-profit resources for embodied carbon data such as Building Transparency’s EC3 tool. Best-practice case studies will also be shared with the market to showcase best practices and continue to build demand. To learn more and connect with peers interested in the embodied carbon movement, consider finding a local Carbon Leadership Regional Hub.

Would your firm be interested in joining this effort? If yes, please email annie.bevan@mindfulmaterials.com with your interest.

Robert James Pratt is managing director, China, and global cohead of design and construction, Tishman Speyer.