Rapid decarbonisation is a critical focus for governments globally, as key planetary indicators highlight imminent ecological collapse. Australia has established clear net zero targets to mitigate predicted impacts, and at a state and territory level, each government is taking several actions to make their carbon transition a success.

Contributing 18% of Australia’s gross emissions, our construction sector is a high-volume high-density carbon emitter. It is crucial for Australia’s buildings, roads, bridges, schools and rail corridors to be designed, built and operated in a smarter way.

At Beca, we believe digital tools and processes can help accelerate the decline of embedded and operational carbon.

Beca has adopted a unique, digital-forward approach that links and embeds operational carbon to the infrastructure we’re planning, building and operating. This enables powerful decision-making about the long-term sustainability impacts of assets across our built environment.

“We’re helping our clients to set themselves up for the future,” says Beca Digital Engineering Manager Sai Jayaraman. “For every sector, the opportunity to opt-in is fast disappearing, and organisations are best positioned to act now before they’re bound by legislation in the coming years. Our advantage is our bespoke digital solution, and its ability to help evolve decision-making from the start.”

Why now?

With mandatory climate reporting proposed to commence from July this year, organisations are facing new sustainability obligations which will have significant legal and financial implications.

These are in addition to the targets outlined in each state and territory climate change action plans, all developed in response to Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and achieving Net Zero by 2050. For example, Victoria’s strategy outlines stepped emission reduction targets to reach 80% by 2035 and was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to legislate a net-zero emissions target, whereas NSW most immediate focus is on driving the uptake of proven emissions reduction technologies to enact a waterfall application through business and community.

While each state and territory’s approach vary across progressive targets, and specific environmental streams or sector-specific implementation objectives, they all inform a pathway to support industry and consumers in understanding and taking action. And perhaps most importantly, they all set up resources and investments for resilience.

“It matters to Beca, it matters to everyone. We recognise the importance to act now so that we leave positive footprint for our future generations to thrive,” says Sai.

A fast, automated, repeatable, reliable and accurate tool-agnostic solution

The first step in the journey towards sustainable design involves assessing and recording the emissions produced by the design. Quantifying these presents a challenge, not only taking into consideration the varying state obligations, but also due to the intersection of everyday tools involved in the design and build process.

Figure 1 Integrating Digital Design Environment to drive sustainable outcomes.


Creating a best-practice and unified solution meant incorporating the emission outcomes into the design environment to enable real-time, informed decision-making the design phase.

The solution’s workflow begins with a data enriched 3D design model that details the materials and quantities. This input is used to automatically calculate the emissions factors from the enormous life cycle database and map the results back to the design environment, thus creating a design-sustainability loop that enables designers and engineers to make sustainable decisions. The emissions visualisation - in contrast to data-heavy spreadsheets traditionally representing carbon information - also enhances any stakeholder and community engagement to drive more sustainable decision making.

Figure 2 & 3 Smart Visualisation of the emissions for enhanced decision making and stakeholder engagements.


By unpacking the smart and sustainable decision making available from the beginning of the design process, we are supporting clients to reach more sustainable outcomes and head towards legislated targets. For example, we recently designed a low-carbon bridge in Australia, where we used a high strength concrete option rather than the standard design.

Interestingly, while this concrete option is actually a higher carbon emitter, the redesign meant not only reducing the quantity of concrete used, but its structural strength reduced the other materials used – including the reinforcement - resulting in a bridge design with an overall lower carbon impact.

Our innovative approach has also been effective at identifying sustainable material alternatives and demonstrating the value to a client at the design phase - such as replacing high emissive concrete with a proportion of low-emissive materials like fly ash.

Perhaps most impressively, the sophisticated solution that Beca has developed moves beyond industry norms of simply gauging carbon emissions through the use of multiple tools and methods. Instead it measures the effects on all nine Planetary Boundaries and calculates the societal cost for every boundary and asset. Through innovative technology we corroborate multiple data sources to quantify the impact of each project across all nine environmental indicators - from climate change to ocean acidification - and demonstrate what difference design changes would make in terms of both financial and societal cost.

“The differences can all be captured in the tool. It’s designed for a project-to-project basis and has an ability to link different elements and dimensions. Its complexity is its beauty,” says Sai.

Figure 4 Beyond Carbon - Quantification of Planetary Boundaries through Design Client support and sector influence through best practice.


Our extensive portfolio across the sector means we’re able to create guide slopes and carbon budgets to make sure our projects are achieving the best outcomes at each point in the journey. This also means we can help inform the standard slope to help regulators realistically plot the journey to a carbon-neutral future. Each state and territory action plan outlines targets and guidelines, but from our unique position working directly with clients; as well as working in an advisory role at an industry level; we can understand, categorise and benchmark best practice as we learn and improve on each individual project.

“We’re influencing decisions in the absence of standards and requirements. But we need to move faster, so we’re pushing the boundaries,” says Sai.

By making carbon charting tangible for our clients, we’re supporting them to achieve mandated targets, and in many cases, strive for best practice. Bringing clients on the journey early in the design discussions, even on projects where it’s not yet a legal requirement to report carbon emissions, will help to avoid ‘greenwashing’ down the track once legislation prescribes reporting, as they can demonstrate a sustainable commitment over multiple projects.

This unique approach to carbon charting and design augmentation is just one of the initiatives Beca has developed to support our clients through their transition to a decarbonised future.

Learn more about our Decarbonisation Planning services and the way we prioritise create a more prosperous future.

About the Author
Sai Jayaraman

Senior Digital Consultant - Infrastructure

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