Insight into action: Whole life cost and carbon

Mariangela Zanni shares her insights into how we reduce the whole life cost and carbon impact of our projects.

Mariangela Zanni

Head of Research and Sustainable Design, Cartwright Pickard

Hi Mariangela, what is your role at Cartwright Pickard and what projects/sectors do you specialise in?

I’m Head of Research and Sustainable Design, specialising in environmental and whole life carbon design, research, and application. I’m particularly interested in optimising buildings’ energy performance and reducing embodied carbon of materials, while having a positive impact on the wellbeing of occupants.

Why do you think whole life carbon is an important thing for the architecture industry to focus on?

Architects play an important role in minimising whole life carbon. We can influence early design decisions that have a lasting impact on building performance, through design measures and material choices.

Construction generates 40% of global CO2 emissions, and embodied carbon accounts for up to 80% of a building’s total lifetime emissions. So, by specifying materials which have a low embodied carbon, that are also durable and sustainable, we can make a significant contribution towards achieving the Paris climate targets and our national pledge to cut our carbon footprint.

What are the main challenges we face in reducing whole life carbon?

It starts with committing to sustainability targets from the earliest stages of the design process. Informing and educating clients on the benefits of investing in the early stages of design and approaching sustainability in a holistic way would lead to a more sustainable design process and outcome, in terms of performance, whole life cost and overall value.

There is also the misconception that Net Zero buildings cost a lot more. Interestingly, research shows that there is only a capital cost increase of 6.2% for an office and 3.5% for residential projects to achieve the RIBA and UKGBC targets for 2025. Moreover, these costs will likely be offset by value benefits such as increased rental premiums, lower tenancy void periods, lower offsetting costs, and lower operating and maintenance costs.

Insight into action: Whole life cost and carbon

2 & 3 Angel Square, Manchester


How do we approach those challenges in an innovative way?

We strive to integrate sustainability considerations as part of every decision throughout the design process, from inception to completion in a holistic way.

More importantly, we follow a measurement and verification process, assessing and tracking performance indicators. We take a bespoke approach to every project, conducting performance analysis to make sure that our design decisions are optimised to achieve the best whole-life results. We have to balance the operational carbon benefits with possible embodied carbon costs and consistently test different options to find the best approach for whole life carbon.

We are also constantly exploring new innovative technologies and conducting cutting edge research on performance analysis and sustainability, including our 7D BIM tool.

Insight into action: Whole life cost and carbon

Island, Manchester

What do you think the future holds for carbon reduction in the built environment?

There’s evidence that we need to reduce our current consumption by 45% to reach the 2030 and 2050 targets in time and so far it’s only around 3%. So there is a lot that needs to be done in a short amount of time; 2050 might seem too far into the future but we need to take action now and reinvent our way of working.

We need to start measuring more, not just the predicted performance of buildings but also the real-world performance of actual buildings. That will make a big difference in understanding what works well and how occupants actually use the buildings. All those lessons can be taken forward in the design of future buildings.

I think we will also see more regulations that tackle the embodied carbon of buildings, as well as limits on the operational carbon, so there is a more holistic view of the whole life impact of a project.

Is there a project or moment in your career at Cartwright Pickard that has been particularly rewarding, and what is it?

It has been an honour working alongside an incredibly talented team to conduct research into new technology that will greatly assist in achieving targets of carbon neutrality. 7D BIM integrates whole life cost and carbon estimation with BIM, assisting designers’ decision-making based on accurate data of a building’s performance at all stages of design development.

Presenting 7D BIM was very rewarding; to see how it was very well received by both the architecture industry and the academic community. This consensus that this is the right thing to do, and the right approach, was very significant to me as a researcher.

Insight into action: Whole life cost and carbon

Hive Central, Sheffield