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Crunching Carbon | Who is taking the initiative?

Flinders university

Two years have passed since the UK launched the world’s first standard for managing infrastructure carbon. So who is using it?

When it comes to demonstrating action taken to mitigate climate change through carbon reduction, the industry go-to device remains PAS 2080, the world’s first standard for managing carbon in infrastructure.

Developed by consultants Mott MacDonald and Arup with standards body BSI under the aegis of the Green Construction Board, PAS 2080 is designed to offer practical “how to” guidance to cut carbon – and therefore costs, and slow climate change.

The link between cost and carbon is seen as a crucial motivator. It was identified in the Treasury’s 2013 Infrastructure Carbon Review, which concluded that the UK economy would benefit by £1.5bn a year if the infrastructure sector adopted practices pioneered by those leading on carbon reduction.


The review set out 10 broad recommendations, one of which was the creation of a new publicly accessible specification for carbon reduction: PAS 2080.

It launched in May 2016 and effectively killed the argument that there is nowhere to go to benchmark good carbon reduction.

PAS 2080 and its accompanying guidance document provide a common language and framework for asset owners/managers, designers, constructors and product/material suppliers to manage whole life carbon. It paves the way for consistency of methods and reporting which should make it easier to talk about carbon management and cost right across the supply chain, and right across the infrastructure sector.

PAS 2080 effectively killed the argument that there is nowhere to go to benchmark good carbon reduction

But it is down to individuals and organisations to act. Because, crucially, using it is not mandatory: PAS 2080 is a voluntary standard. So now, 18 months on, who is embracing it, and who is using it?

Mott MacDonald, as lead author of PAS 2080, is unsurprisingly taking a lead. It has rolled out what it believes to be the infrastructure industry’s first building information modelling-compatible carbon modelling tool.

Helping designers

Unlike other carbon tools on the market, which are primarily aimed at quantity surveyors, Carbon Portal is set up to assist designers during the optioneering phases of project development, when the greatest carbon and cost savings can be achieved.

It is deploying the tool on projects for Highways England, National Grid, Yorkshire Water and a number of other infrastructure asset owner companies in the UK. It is also actively and successfully exporting low carbon infrastructure asset management outside the UK, for example on the Flinders University project in Australia (top picture)

Arup co-authored the specification and it too has showcased how the new principles can result in far-reaching carbon reductions, with a masterplanning project in Oman.

True to the client brief, the design of Irfan, a new district of Muscat, is a great example of sustainable planning.

Low carbon cam aerial 01

Low carbon cam aerial 01

Irfan, a new district of Muscat, is a great example of sustainable planning

Irfan now provides the blueprint for connectivity, energy and resource efficiency that can be exported to the rest of Muscat and around the globe.

Back in the UK, the Great Western Electrification Programme (GWEP) was one of the first projects in the rail industry to use the Rail Safety Standard Board’s (RSSB’s) new Rail Carbon Tool, and the resulting case study was included in PAS2080.

Consultant WSP worked with client Network Rail to identify and understand the carbon hotspots associated with the design of the overhead line electrification.

Irfan now provides the blueprint for connectivity, energy and resource efficiency

Its analysis included the replacement of products and materials across the 120 year design life of the project – an approach to assessment that can be overlooked in embodied carbon analyses.

Carbon reduction opportunities fell into two categories – reducing the quantity of materials, and changing the specification of materials, particularly where steel and concrete were concerned.

The quantified carbon reduction initiatives that had been undertaken achieved savings of 2,910t CO2 equivalent.

Signing up to cut carbon

Consultant Stantec is using PAS 2080 too. A real example of its commitment and intent was its decision to sign the Newcastle Declaration of Blue and Green Infrastructure focused on prioritising sustainable  drainage in collaboration with local authorities and stakeholders in the region.

A practical application of this commitment was with Northumbrian Water, where Stantec supported its response to European Union bathing water quality standard breach at Whitburn in Sunderland.

The quantified carbon reduction initiatives achieved savings of 2,910t CO2e

This critical scheme started with a requirement for a 16,500m3 new concrete storage tank, a traditional “grey” solution to reduce spills from combined sewer overflows to the sea.

Instead, Stantec, in partnership with local authorities and residents designed “blue-green” sustainable drainage across the catchment with small distributed measures in streets, such as rain gardens, swales, planters and basins.

The work reduced conventional “grey” storage by 75% and also the amount of water pumped and treated.

The overall catchment solution delivers significant whole life reductions of 25% in cost and 13% in carbon. Clearly not all firms are yet referencing PAS 2080 in their work. although much is being done (see boxes).

Early indications are that PAS 2080 needs more support as examples are few and far between. 

Carbon crunchers


Contractor Bouygues Construction participated in the seminal COP21 climate change summit in Paris and showcased its construction projects to demonstrate how the industry has a leading role to play in tackling climate change.

3.carbon cnm.jpg

3.carbon cnm.jpg

An example of its approach is the Nîmes-Montpellier high speed railway. There, it is using an innovative asphalt waterproofing solution for the permanent way, cutting CO2 emissions by 35% compared to traditional ballast. It has also stabilised soil with lime-based hydraulic binders, which has reduced CO2 emissions by 20%. It has used three solar powered site compounds and has used behavioural training such as eco-driving lessons, which has saved 13% of fuel.

Meanwhile, with concrete the second most used material on the planet yet with very little recycling, Bouygues’ challenge is to develop recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) on an industrial scale. As part of a French research project, it has worked to construct a pedestrian and cycle bridge with 20% RCA (the maximum allowed in France). It is now working on a second structure with 40% RCA and investigating a structure with 100% RCA.


Sweco is embracing the “Carbon Conversations” programme, a carbon literacy and engagement programme comprising five topic areas: climate change, energy, transport, food and consumption/waste.

Sweco carbon pic 1

Sweco carbon pic 1

A final session pulls this knowledge together and enables participants to create effective action plans.

The programme combines technical know-how with the often overlooked but equally relevant behavioural aspects such as resistance to change.

It employs insights from research and applies a values-based approach to change to engage and empower people to act effectively.  

Importantly, the programme looks at carbon footprints holistically and therefore aligns with a whole life carbon approach.

More than 5,000 people in the UK have been through the Carbon Conversations sessions and they have subsequently driven a carbon saving of over 1t of CO2e per person per annum.

The programme won the Energy Champion and Environment Award at the 2015 Energy Institute Awards for its pioneering “Carbon Conversations” work in the Anglian Water @one Alliance.


Working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Ramboll is providing technical assistance to funders of low-carbon, climate-resilient urban infrastructure in cities in Asia and the Pacific.

Ramboll image

Ramboll image

For six pilot cities, Ramboll is carrying out a rapid appraisal assessment of current infrastructure, taking into account current gaps and future needs; and city-level modelling of emissions profiles and vulnerability to future climate change impacts. Options for low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure will be prioritised via a macro-level cost benefit analysis.

This will be accompanied by the identification of financing models and mechanisms to address investment needs and capitalise on the identified opportunities in each pilot city.

Pilot city analysis will then be extrapolated to all cities within Asian Development Bank developing member countries which have a population greater than 750,000 and growth rates exceeding 30% by 2030.

More than 100 cities in the Asia-Pacific region meet this criterion.

Based on its experience with the pilot cities, Ramboll has now been awarded a similar with ABB in Xianton City, China.

Following the floods of recent years, Pell Frischmann was asked to assess repeated flooding around the Humber region and in Hull City Centre.

Pell Frischmann

Its floods teams – scientists and engineers - take the view that flood mitigation rather than prevention is the only sustainable approach as tidal levels rise and greater areas of land are brought into urban and suburban use.

Pell frischmann

Pell frischmann

This project opened up an opportunity to find a low carbon means of reducing the interventions required.

In particular, following computer modelling of water flows along the main waterways in the region – including the Humber – a particular man-made hindrance to those flows was identified.

The presence of more than a dozen “wrecks” in the river and estuary had resulted in significant silting and significantly reduced water flows from land to sea.  

The models suggested that removing these wrecks would, over time, result in a return to more natural water flows and reduced flood risk.

Live testing of this practice has now taken place, with the removal of two wrecks showing improvement in the river flow in their surrounding areas.



Consultant Aecom has designed the first indoor sports venue to achieve LEED Platinum certification. Golden 1 Center, home of basketball team the Sacramento Kings, has earned the highest score for a sports venue in the LEED program and placed in the top 3% of all buildings certified.

161024 aec g1c 0200

161024 aec g1c 0200

Five massive hangar doors above the grand entrance will open and allow the arena to use a natural cooling phenomenon in Sacramento – The Delta Breeze – to control the building’s climate efficiently.

With over 300 days of sunshine in Sacramento, the arena’s urban-smart energy system – with a specially designed 1.2MW solar array on the arena roof and an 11MW solar farm 65km away – provides a creative solution for generating 100% of the power for the venue’s 200+ events all year long.

Through LED lighting, lighting controls, heat recovery and a “Fan First” ventilation system which allows people to influence the temperature through an app on their phones, the building saves enough energy to power a 11,000m2 office building. Thirty six per cent of materials come from recycled sources, including fans’ old trainers, which are recycled in the court’s foam layer.





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