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Atkins is tackling the climate change agenda head-on, with its engineers adopting a challenging new approach to design

Atkins is addressing the climate change challenge by adopting an approach it calls "carbon critical design". The 18,000-strong consultancy is on a journey to make the reduction of carbon consumption a key design factor in all its projects, both in construction and during the lifetime of the asset. "We’ve done it because we think it’s a fundamental necessity for the built environment," says chief executive Keith Clarke.

"Unless we try to find out how to change the design process, and enable clients to meet their aspirations to reduce carbon emissions, we would be failing across the board." He adds: "The industry as a whole has a habit of waiting for somebody – a client or the government – to give them a difficult problem to solve. The real challenge for Atkins is to become part of defining the question." This, says Clarke, will result in a fundamental shift in the way engineers address their work. "This is not designing an answer to a problem," he explains. "This is going to be a very significant journey. There will be mistakes along the way, and we are going to have to do things that are less than perfect in order to progress. That is a very big challenge for engineers."

The company has instigated a programme with four separate – but related - streams: awareness, training and tools, teams and knowledge transfer, and client engagement. Clarke says staff will shuffle between these streams in a way that is "very un-engineering", with engineers having to strive for "the best they can at the moment", rather than expecting a "right" answer.

The urgency of the problem is driving Atkins’ initiative. "We will have to be a bit more pragmatic and make some horrible compromises because we really haven’t got long," says Clarke. "Our job is to protect the future, but to make a difference in 20 years time we need to start now."

For Atkins’ engineers, carbon critical design will involve "allowing people to do things they’re not used to, and putting them together with people they’re not used to," according to Clarke. "One of the enormous strengths of the engineering community is their intellect," he adds, "and the skills we’re finding within people are fantastic."

Employee Profile: Richard Hill
Richard Hill is an associate within Atkins’ ports and maritime group. He has been with the company for 10 years, and is starting to see how carbon critical design will impact on his role. "Ports and maritime structures tend to be big, strong, robust lumps of concrete and steel, so at first glance it’s quite a challenge," he says. "But there are ways and means if you think it through as part of the design process from the start."

Hill is currently working on the design of a 600-berth marina in Dorset, and has specified that the breakwater should be built utilising local Portland stone. "It’s not the best stone for this," he explains. "Usually such structures are built from more durable stone like granite or limestone, but that would have involved significantly longer haulage distances from sources within the UK, or haulage and shipping, if it was imported from France. "We have amended the design to accommodate the characteristics of Portland stone. For example we know the stone is going to degrade more than we would like, so we’ve oversized the product to account for this. As a consequence, the way the rock is quarried will be different, so we’ve made provision for quarry by-products to be incorporated elsewhere in the design." As a result, more local labour will be used, the short-term futures of a quarry and a local haulage company have been assured, traffic impacts reduced and carbon emissions dramatically reduced by sourcing locally.

To find out more about working at Atkins go to

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