The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has launched the second edition of its groundbreaking Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment (WLCA) standard. This new global version ushers in a more developed understanding of the carbon costs and benefits of design choices in construction and infrastructure projects and assets.

Understanding the Whole Life Carbon Assessment

Whole Life Carbon Assessment is a method of evaluating the total carbon emissions produced throughout the lifecycle of a built asset. This includes the carbon emissions associated with the production of materials, the construction process, the use of the built asset, and its ultimate disposal.

The objective of these assessments is to provide a consistent and comprehensive understanding of a project’s carbon footprint. This allows professionals in the built environment sector to make informed decisions that contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, a crucial step towards achieving net-zero targets.

The Importance of Whole Life Carbon Assessment

The significance of Whole Life Carbon Assessment in the construction sector cannot be understated. The United Nations reports that the Built Environment contributes to around 40% of all global carbon output and 50% of extracted material. Therefore, accurate and comprehensive carbon assessments are vital in meeting global emissions targets.

Beyond environmental considerations, Whole Life Carbon Assessment is also relevant to clients, investors, and property managers. Carbon reporting and accounting is a priority across all sectors, and this Professional Standard provides a reliable and consistent method for assessing carbon emissions in the built environment.

Embodied Carbon vs Whole Life Carbon

In the building lifecycle, embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the non-operational phase of the project. This includes the carbon emissions from the extraction, manufacture, and transportation of materials, as well as the construction process itself.

On the other hand, the whole life carbon of a building encompasses both the embodied carbon and the operational carbon. Operational carbon involves the emissions from heating, cooling, providing water, and other energy uses during the building’s operational phase.

The Impact of Whole Life Carbon Assessment

With more than 100,000 qualified professionals worldwide, RICS has significant influence in the construction sector. The adoption of Whole Life Carbon Assessment in the design process can lead to considerable carbon and cost savings. By providing a consistent methodology to assess the carbon output of buildings throughout their entire lifecycle, professionals in the industry can better measure and manage their impact on the environment.

The New Global Standard

The 2023 edition of the Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment represents a significant leap forward. This global version of the standard was produced in partnership with the UK’s Department for Transport and Net Zero Waste Scotland. It extends to cover all built assets and infrastructure projects throughout the built environment lifecycle.

Following a public consultation that received over 1,300 responses, the second edition of the standard has been updated for global application and is poised to influence regulatory structures in more nations.

The Benefits of Reducing Embodied Carbon

Reducing embodied carbon is not just beneficial for the environment, it also makes good commercial sense. Leading developers have achieved average reductions in Capital Expenditure (CapEx) of 22% by focusing on embodied carbon reduction.

Furthermore, as the process of electricity decarbonisation progresses and operational emissions reduce, the relative significance of embodied carbon increases. Early-stage design interventions can substantially reduce both embodied carbon and cost.

RICS’ Mandatory Approach to Whole Life Carbon Assessment

RICS mandates a whole life approach to reducing carbon emissions in the built environment. As a minimum, RICS members are expected to conduct at least two Whole Life Carbon assessments; one at the technical design stage, which is mandatory, and another after practical completion, which is recommended best practice.

The Future of Whole Life Carbon Assessment

The second edition of Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment is set to shape the future approach to carbon emissions in the industry. By promoting a globally applicable standard, RICS is leading the way in steering the industry towards decarbonisation.


In conclusion, the Whole Life Carbon Assessment standard by RICS represents a significant stride towards decarbonising the built environment. By providing a consistent and comprehensive method for evaluating carbon emissions, this standard is set to drive significant environmental and economic benefits. It is paving the way for a more sustainable future in the construction industry.