LCBI: a label dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of European real-estate

The European Union has set some ambitious targets in a bid to reduce carbon emissions from human activities, but to achieve them the real-estate sector lacked an operational, harmonised method for calculating carbon emissions over the entire life cycle of a building. The Low Carbon Building Initiative (LCBI) hence brought together several key players in the real-estate sector to draw up such a method and create a label that could be used across Europe. Kevin Thizy, who represents Artelia on the LCBI technical committee, tells us all about this new approach and label, due to be officially launched at the start of February 2024.

How did the LCBI project come about, and how does it tie in with the existing methodologies and labels?

Through the European Green Deal and the tangible actions proposed as part of “Fit for 55%”, the EU has launched a concerted drive to reduce carbon emissions with some high targets to be met as early as 2030 with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It has also supported the creation of some frames of reference to assist these efforts, such as the Green Taxonomy and Level(s) to assess the environmental performance of buildings, as well as some calculation tools such as CRREM[1], which focuses on energy efficiency. However, at present there is no European method that proposes benchmarks or carbon limit values to be respected over the entire life cycle of a building, and this is hampering progress towards these targets in the real-estate sector. So the LCBI drew on these initiatives to go a step further and develop a method and a single operational label dedicated to calculating the carbon footprint of a building, that can be used in different EU countries in spite of their disparate regulations and practices.

The LCBI is a private-sector initiative, driven mainly by real-estate developers[2] who are keen to embrace these changes instigated by the EU and, in order to do so, need a harmonised, quantitative frame of reference setting clear targets at a European scale. A number of sector stakeholders (investors, insurers, architects, engineers, construction firms, etc.) have joined forces on this project, to meet the market demand for decarbonisation.

[1] Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor

[2] AXA IM Alts, GENERALI Real Estate, BNP Paribas Real Estate, WO2, ICAMAP, BPI Real Estate, Covivio, Ivanhoé Cambridge, NSI, Bouygues Immobilier

In what capacity was Artelia invited to contribute to this project?

Artelia has developed a wealth of expertise in sustainable construction and the decarbonisation of buildings over the past 15 years. The Group is a founder member of the French ‘BBCA’ low-carbon building label, which is one of the country’s most exacting methodologies in this field. I personally have been working on this topic since 2015, as a carbon expert. So our contribution to the LCBI label was our European dimension and our technical experience. The BBCA and LCBI labels are similar in essence and share the same ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of the building construction sector. The LCBI label marks a shift in scale and reflects the desire to involve a highly diverse range of players in the process, which led us to adopt an original, innovative approach to design a methodology of a totally new type.

What makes the LCBI label so original?

The over-arching desire to develop the skills of the profession at a European level, and help it rein in its carbon impact. This means the LCBI label is both a high-level benchmark for the real-estate sector and a low-carbon design tool for project teams. It is both a carbon-focused assessment and calculation method and a label certified by Bureau Veritas.
It was drawn up on the basis of an initial group of seven countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. For this first release, we focused on the construction of new commercial and residential buildings. A special feature of the LCBI label is that it combines two dovetailing concepts: measuring the carbon emissions of a building by analysing its whole life cycle (a period of 50 years) and, at the same time, examining the completeness of the components considered. By combining these two dimensions, a reliable overall performance level can be obtained.

How do these two concepts of “measuring emissions” and “the completeness of the components” fit with each other?

The LCBI considers three types of carbon emissions:

  • Embodied Carbon, in other words the emissions inherent to construction and the footprint of the construction materials and technical equipment used;
  • Operational Carbon, the emissions related to the consumption of energy (from one or more sources);
  • Biogenic Carbon Storage, which considers the carbon captured in any bio-based materials used in construction (a timber structure, for example).

Next, for each group, the completeness of the components considered is examined and given a rating of between 1 and 4 stars. For Embodied Carbon, for instance, one star means only the frame and shell were included in the calculation. The carbon footprint of these components is currently the best known. A second star is awarded if the calculation includes the foundations and external spaces, the third corresponds to the finishing works (partitions, interior finishes, etc.), and the fourth to the building services (HVAC, power/lighting and data cabling, plumbing, lifts, etc.). These technical systems are currently less well understood, and yet they account for a large share of a building’s carbon emissions.

What are the performance levels awarded by the LCBI label?

There are three. The “Standard” level aims to be inclusive. It is within reach of about 50% of new construction projects which follow a life cycle analysis (LCA) process. It corresponds to a carbon footprint of less than 1000 kg/CO2/m2 and meets the 2035 energy performance targets of the CRREM. The next level up, “Performance”, is aligned with current best practices. The building must be exemplary in at least one of the three emissions groups. And the highest level, “Excellence”, corresponds to an overall emissions reduction of more than 30% over the building’s entire life cycle compared with the current standard for new construction and with projects that have carried out a complete and detailed LCA.

What stage of development has the label reached?

It is set to be officially launched at the start of February 2024. That will mark the culmination of two years of work. The first year was devoted to gathering knowledge from across Europe in order to identify what already existed and what was needed, and then to drawing up a methodology. During the second, we put this method to the test and finalised construction of the label. To carry out the testing, the LCBI’s real-estate partners gave us access to 16 actual cases of buildings located in the seven reference countries. This enabled us to identify the weaknesses and areas for improvement. Our discussions with the various players and project teams involved in these real-estate operations were very enlightening.

In testing the method on these pilot projects in different countries we really grasped the vast differences in maturity levels in terms of LCA, calculation practices and contexts, especially when it comes to energy mixes. That made us realise we had to be more pragmatic. For example, while maintaining stringent requirements, we made sure the Standard level was accessible, because the aim is to contribute to a large-scale change in practices and encourage as many players as possible to raise their game. We also presented the LCBI method to various EU bodies, who applauded our approach and told us they were interested in having a shared, proven, robust label at their disposal.

What prospects lie ahead for the LCBI right now?

For now, the entire LCBI team is focusing on the launch of the label to ensure the widest possible acceptance by the profession. Here at Artelia, we will help oversee the technical aspects of roll-out throughout 2024. We have also started presenting it to our teams, so that they can respond to clients who express an interest. The experience we have gained will help us give them the best possible support as they go through the certification process. And of course a label such as this is destined to evolve. So the LCBI management team have begun thinking about future extensions to cover refurbishment or logistics buildings, for instance, include additional countries, or enter into some new partnerships.