Whole Life Carbon Accounting

Our team of experienced carbon experts has developed a system for evaluating and measuring whole life carbon emissions clearly and comprehensively—from the very start of a project and throughout its life cycle. This standalone service gives our clients a holistic view of a project’s environmental impact.

From targets to measurable outcomes 

The built environment is responsible for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions globally. While the industry has for decades focused on reducing operational energy and related carbon emissions, whole life carbon is emerging as crucial in the way buildings are designed, constructed and renovated to go further in the pursuit of reducing the built environment’s overall carbon impact. 

Unlike operational energy and associated carbon emissions which can be to a certain extent improved once a building is in use, embodied carbon emissions cannot be rectified at a later date. 

Progressive planning authorities now request embodied carbon data at the earliest stages of major projects and require this to be verified once buildings are constructed. Building policies and industry standards, which set requirements for energy performance levels, are becoming more ambitious through science-based targets. Investors are increasingly prioritizing environmentally-focused evaluations to inform their investment decisions. 

Drawing on a global team with unparalleled expertise, SOM has launched Whole Life Carbon Accounting, a new service that empowers our clients in the real estate sector to meet their project’s predicted, operational energy and embodied carbon targets at construction completion and in-use, while also fulfilling their ESG requirements.

Why a better model is needed

Though projects today carry out carbon assessments at the end of design stages, these are often performed in isolation by different parties and to different standards. This results in assessments that are not comparable and cannot effectively illustrate an asset’s true performance. As a project develops and design strategies evolve, the gaps between these assessments and a project’s real performance (when constructed) widen, leading to a performance gap of up to five times more energy use and/or carbon emissions between predicted and actual values which in the long-term affects an asset’s value and future viability.

Holistic whole life carbon assessments—including quantified operational and embodied carbon data from architecture, structures, building services and interior elements—are essential to understanding a building’s true carbon impact. Performing these assessments early in the design process and ensuring their continuity during construction are critical for enabling clients to make informed decisions when it matters the most.

By providing oversight and guidance from the start of a project’s design into post-project completion, our team of architects, engineers, and sustainability experts help to translate carbon targets into measurable performance outcomes. 

Our service is available both for projects designed by SOM and for those led by other design firms. It can be applied to different scales of projects from a single building to an entire portfolio of assets.

Our approach 

A single source of responsibility – the Lead Carbon Role – with access to four areas of carbon expertise looks after the analysis and measurement of operational and embodied carbon across every project stage to:

Whole Life Carbon Accounting

Meaningful results 

SOM’s Whole Life Carbon Accounting process has been used in the development of several projects internationally, including major renovations and new-build commercial buildings. In addition to minimizing carbon impact, our process benefits clients by: 

  • Reducing wasted time and costs involved in the design and construction process 
  • Increasing opportunities for consistent design and technical innovation 
  • Reducing the maintenance of buildings and ensuring they are climate-resilient for the future 
  • Future-proofing building assets to prevent premature renovation and/or obsolescence and adding long-term value 
  • Contributing to environmental reporting and meeting highest building sustainability ratings for corporate assessments and benchmarking 
  • Improving corporate social responsibility and organizational reputations

Want to learn more about our Whole Life Carbon Accounting service?