Carbon Tools Are Getting Better at Calculating Scope 3 Emissions

By Franco Faraudo

Understanding the carbon associated with the construction of a building has always been a difficult task. Tools have been built to help architects and engineers estimate how much carbon each type of material produces, but these generally only account for the actual production of the material. This has caused miscalculations about whether it is better, carbon-wise, to renovate older buildings or knock them down and build newer, more energy-efficient ones.

But now, thankfully, these tools are getting more sophisticated. Some are factoring in the carbon created by the supply chain of each material. Others are taking into consideration the full lifecycle of each construction method, including what carbon and waste are produced when the buildings eventually have to be disposed of. Both of these types of calculations are difficult because the answers depend on location. Some materials are much less carbon-intensive to source, depending on where the construction site sits. Waste disposal also changes depending on the geography, especially in remote or land constricted areas where landfills are not locally available. By mapping out exactly where products are sourced and thrown out, the software can at least estimate how any design change would impact the total sustainability of each project.

These calculators are by no means perfect. They will need to constantly evolve in order to be able to get more accurate about the true carbon cost of each building material. But this is a great start. The growing sophistication of these tools isn’t just a bonus for sustainably minded developers and owners. California has already required certain companies to report on Scope 3 emissions; the European Union will begin to demand the same from large public companies starting in 2025. The availability of carbon calculators is also a bit of a double-edged sword. Now, more governments will feel more willing to impose new carbon reporting regulations because it isn’t prohibitively difficult or expensive to comply with. Before long, these advanced Scope 3 calculations will likely be standard procedure in most parts of the world.

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