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Analysis | Reduce carbon, reduce cost - why aren't more signing up to save cash?

carbon emissions 2by3

Time pressures, cost issues and seemingly mind boggling, complex procedures – are these the reasons why only 56 companies have signed up to the Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) in its first two years?

The ICR was set up by the government and the Green Construction Board with the aim of bringing the entire construction supply chain on board with its motto “Reduce carbon, reduce cost”. It stated that the UK had the potential to cut out up to 24M.t of carbon and in the process save £1.46bn a year by 2050.

In a world so driven by the bottom line, what is stopping the industry from queuing at the door to sign up?

Speak to the companies already involved in the ICR and the response is unanimous; the Review is making a difference. However, even those who are converts are aware of the barriers that some of the companies not signed up face.

According to the ICR, the low carbon agenda requires a total culture shift within an organisation with strong leadership buy-in. Baseline monitoring and new policies and frameworks have to be put into place throughout the company. It’s this buy-in which Skanska UK director of environment Adam Crossley believes is taking the time for business leaders to come to terms with.

He said that with many other pressing issues such as cost, risk and safety, the low carbon agenda can be low on the list of priorities, but he said that many of these issues can actually be solved by applying the low carbon principles.

Up until now, the only guidance was the ICR’s initial manifesto, so companies had to take their own initiatives to cut carbon. However, Anglian Water carbon manager David Riley thinks that the new publicly available specification (PAS) 2080 and guidance notes, published last week, will now catalyse the uptake.

“This now gives a framework which didn’t previously exist,” he says. “This will now make it easier to explain the concept to our suppliers.”

Carbon Trust associate director Dominic Burbridge agrees, although he suggests that companies still may find it difficult to bridge the gap between the ICR’s five key principles for carbon reduction and the new detailed document.

Burbridge explains that many companies feel the processes involved is too complex. However, he said that putting some simple procedures in place could actually be a relief, as it would allow some of the more seemingly ad-hoc carbon saving ideas, previously applied on a project by project basis, to be part of a proper framework. This, in turn he said, allowed the measures to be targeted by value and then made scalable and repeatable.

“It’s almost a bottomless pit of effort that you could put into this, so within the framework you can start to see where to get the most value,” explains Burbridge.

Mandating the PAS 2080 guidelines has been ruled out for now with the general feeling being that the uptake shouldn’t be enforced, leaving companies to decide for themselves to make a cultural change.

“If we had been mandated to have a capital carbon reduction target in 2010, it’s very unlikely that we would have created such a challenging target,” said Riley. “That’s the problem with mandating, you remain within the comfort zone of the company – what you can deliver today, not what you can deliver tomorrow.”

With ambitious targets and a clear framework, can the 56 companies – predominately comprising high profile tier one contractors, consultants and clients – now lead the way for the rest of the industry to follow suit? Time will tell.

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