14 Apr 2021


When you think about the carbon emissions from your home or workplace, what comes to mind? Lighting, heating, cooling and hot water? Buildings all need energy to run. But there’s another part of the equation that often gets overlooked. And it’s called ‘embodied or upfront carbon’. These are the total greenhouse gas emissions generated during the manufacturing of the materials and products used in construction, as well as the building and construction. And these are the greenhouse gases released even before a new office block or metro station is even used. 

The built environment sector is responsible for one-quarter of Australia’s greenhouse emissions. Every concrete foundation, every frame, window, roof and even the roads we drive on all have embodied emissions. The steel, cement and aluminium industries each produce about 7–9% of global greenhouse emissions. That’s a huge amount.

But in Australia, this is set to change. With the support of the NSW Government, WWF-Australia is bringing together the biggest industry names to fast-track the reduction in embodied carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal in line with the Paris Agreement climate change targets. And it’s being spearheaded by some of the nation’s brightest minds in the game. Introducing MECLA.

Alliance for the future 

Hudson Worsley from Presync is the head of the newly-formed Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA). He says that MECLA will drive a new wave of innovation towards net-zero and position Australia as a competitive global player. 

“The transition in the energy sector is well underway. We're moving from fossil fuel-based energy to renewable energy,” says Hudson. “We now want to stimulate the same level of change in the construction sector.”

And with over 41 founding partners on board, the stage is now set for companies across all parts of the supply chain to shape the future of the industry.

“An important feature of MECLA is that it’s very much an industry-led group,” says Hudson.“This isn't government, this isn’t just NGO. This is Lendlease, Laing O'Rourke and Transurban. This is the constructors and the material providers saying we have a huge challenge. We know what the science is telling us, and we must act. But we also see a huge commercial opportunity.”

“MECLA aims for the market to be able to supply – and accurately demand – low emission construction materials. So that means that if a company can produce a low emission cement or a reduced-emission steel or aluminium, it will be able to communicate what it has on offer in a way that engineers and architects will understand it and design for it. When governments put tenders out for big roads, bridges, hospitals or airports, they will have the confidence to know that these low carbon materials are safe and fit for purpose performance-wise,” says Hudson.

Not only will the group work together to understand barriers and develop solutions, it’s aiming to position Australia as one of the top five zero carbon material suppliers in the world. 

“The challenge is that the world is moving quickly towards net-zero with investors, governments and construction companies wanting an alternative product at a faster rate than existing plants and equipment can be adapted. If we're going to compete in a global market, we have to have low carbon alternatives available in Australia,” says Hudson.  

Collaborate to innovate 

Lendlease is one of the founding partners of MECLA. This multinational construction and infrastructure company has set a bold sustainability target to reach absolute zero carbon emissions by 2040.

“Quite frankly, we can't get there by ourselves,” says Ann Austin, Lendlease’s National Sustainability Manager. “To tackle our Scope 3 emissions is a systemic challenge. And it needs all players in the industry to collaborate together to solve this problem.”

“The thing that's great about MECLA is that being new, it's ours to create, and it’s ours to design. It gives us the opportunity to actually pool resources and intellect, and to try and solve this together, rather than doing it in our own silos.” 

“We think that it's important for organisations to put their hand up and be present and transparent and to send a really strong signal to the market that we need to change as an industry.”

Transformation in a global economy

Aurecon is one of those leading organisations that has put up its hand to be a founding partner of MECLA. This international engineering, design and advisory company is part of the United Nations Global Compact, which is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. And the company has committed to an ambitious goal to achieve net-zero carbon for its operations by 2025.

“Embodied carbon is a huge challenge for our industry,” says Melissa Gaspari, Sustainability Lead at Aurecon. “No developer, designer, engineer or consultant supplier can do it alone.”

“A forum like MECLA creates a chance to listen to one another. Listening creates a deeper understanding of the possible solutions and gives us a chance to take advantage of all those opportunities.”

“Why should others in the industry get involved? Why not? It's a chance for transformation and a chance to take on new opportunities. We believe humanity depends on engineering, and being part of MECLA sets up the world for a decarbonised global economy.”

To find out more about MECLA and read the report on tackling embodied carbon, visit the Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA) webpage.