Net Zero Carbon Design – Just Got Easier

“Net Zero Carbon” buildings including embodied carbon now rewarded for Innovation.

Over 50% of embodied carbon gets “locked away” within the first few weeks of design.



Visually representing the embodied impact of materials in a scale gives designers a critical edge when targeting net zero environmental goals and can minimize or eliminate the need to commit building owners to purchasing ongoing costly “offsets”. 


The Pixel Building in Melbourne is the first carbon neutral office building in Australia and uses smart design and renewable energy to offset operating and embodied carbon emissions.  

Image Source: PRC Magazine, Sarasi Peiris

The materials carbon (embodied carbon) impact of buildings can be more than 40 times larger than its annual operating carbon footprint. The recent extension of “net zero carbon” Innovation to include embodied carbon (scope 3) means that making the right strategic design decisions early, becomes a whole lot more important.

Ignoring this fact makes achieving “net zero” carbon via on-site embedded alternatives almost impossible. However, making the right strategic design decisions can result in an embodied carbon footprint that is 30-50% smaller, which leaves the path open for a 100% on-site offset which complies with the Standards. It is all too easy to add embodied carbon to buildings by chasing operating carbon savings in isolation.

Embodied carbon is often “locked in” at early stages of the project. Visual pallettes help architects and designers pick a low-carbon design direction and can minimize the need for costly “offsets” in operation. 

For example, a simple cross laminated timber (CLT) structure can be 40% less carbon intense than conventional concrete which, for an office building, could account for over 10% saving overall, from that one design decision. Adopting permanent formwork systems for walls (such as Dincell or RediWall) over the traditional reinforced concrete block approach can avoid 55% of a walls carbon footprint, which for an apartment building could mean a total saving of over 8% of the total materials footprint. Making these two decisions can deliver a building with 15-20% less embodied carbon and that’s just the start.

The gap between a clients net carbon brief and the designers initial sketch thinking needs to be bridged with simple and reliable visual guides to materials impact. It is generally within the first few days of the schematic design musings that over 50% of the embodied carbon footprint gets “locked away”.  So bridging the gap and empowering designers with this information is crucial to the accelerated delivery of low carbon buildings, and validating the outcome.

The GreenBook is an option to help.


The GreenBook is one of the solutions to this challenge. Developed by The Footprint Company, specifically for designers, it is the most comprehensive embodied carbon inventory for construction materials and assemblies in Australia. More importantly, the new eBook includes visual design palettes to make the job of selecting the lowest carbon pathway fast and engaging (just like those shown above).

There are over 1,000 materials and assembly rates (and growing at the rate of 25 per month) as well as a new section with whole building carbon benchmarks defined by element (just as you would see in a Rider’s Digest or Cordells Price Guide). This addition is intended to empower clients to set embodied carbon performance targets to address the growth of REIT’s “net zero carbon” policy goals.

Join the Leaders: 
Early adopters of the use of this approach have achieved success and supported their whole-of-life net-zero performance commitments.

Macquarie University have adopted the use of these tools and implemented whole building embodied carbon targets. They have achieved significant outcomes for a number of recent projects including:  E7A – where the decision to retain and adaptively re-use structure and facade was supported by the embodied carbon benefit of the approach. The decision to retain and adapt these elements avoid over 15% of the carbon footprint. The temporary Innovation Hub designers chose a panellised CLT approach which contributed to a carbon footprint 20% smaller than a conventional structure.

LendLease Urban Regeneration have adopted an embodied carbon reduction target for retail tenancy fitouts for a number of leading projects. Designers are supported with The GreenBook to understand their design options to achieve this target.

Foster + Partners have been using The GreenBook and on-line calculators to support their leading commitment to delivering excellence in whole-of-life carbon footprint for their clients and their projects.

What was already good, just got better.

The GreenBook eBook. 
Now an on-line eBook by subscription – which provides the benefit of auto updates and additions every quarter.

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