Contractors and consultants are businesses like any other, and have a duty to minimise environmental impact. But at the same time they are involved in an industry that is often blamed for high levels of carbon emissions, so how likely would they be to lead the way in the race to become carbon neutral?
We polled the top 10 contractors and 20 of the top 30 consultants and got 17 replies.
The responses proved that the construction industry is taking the sustainability agenda very seriously.
And, while a carbon footprint is only one measure of sustainability, it is a good indicator of commitment to the issue.
It might be expected that consultants would be further ahead than contractors. After all, many of them actually offer environmental measurement and carbon reduction as services to their clients. As Julie Gartside, consulting group manager at Enviros says: “We are a consultancy that works with companies to reduce their carbon emissions. It is essential that we practise what we preach and are able to test ideas before suggesting them to clients.”
Of the other consultants that responded, Atkins, Scott Wilson, Gifford, Halcrow, Pell Frischmann, Faber Maunsell and Royal Haskoning also sell environmental and/or carbon consultancy, with some accredited by external bodies like the Carbon Trust and CIBSE for their work.
What might be more surprising is the extent that some of the major contractors have embraced the concept of carbon measurement and reduction. Consultants’ carbon emissions are mainly limited to office energy consumption and travel, making a carbon footprint relatively straightforward to measure – although far from easy. Contractors, though, tend to work at numerous locations, with complex transport needs involving suppliers around the world.
But this hasn’t stopped them doing the calculation. The UK’s largest contractor Balfour Beatty currently measures its carbon footprint at 172,171t CO2 equivalent – a 27% reduction in four years – and has pledged to cut a further 10% off energy costs across the business. Amey has also done the sums, while Costain and Bovis Lendlease have started the process.
One of the questions we asked in the survey was whether companies intend to become carbon neutral. This provoked much discussion about the value and credibility of offsetting – an essential tool in achieving carbon neutrality at present.
Enviros has been offsetting all its emissions since 2004, and permanently removing the carbon credits it buys from the market (rather than trading them), but both Faber Maunsell and Pell Frischmann are concerned about existing offsetting schemes. “Carbon neutrality is a contentious issue,” says Pell Frischmann sustainability coordinator Dr Tim Jervis. “Frequently, the offset schemes are anything but.”
Keith Sexton, health safety and environment director at Amey adds: “We believe that all commercially-appropriate internal reduction opportunities should be exhausted before employing the use of carbon offsetting schemes.”
It is a view shared also by Tube Lines environment manager Charlotte Simmonds. “Carbon neutrality claims are at present dubious, with most companies choosing to offset their emissions rather than reduce them,” she says.
Most firms seem to be concentrating instead on energy consumption and behavioural changes – switching off lights, car sharing etc – that will add up to significant reductions in carbon output.
Case study 1: Halcrow
Singing in the (acid?) rain
Halcrow is in the process of developing new travel plans for all its offices. One of the first to be implemented is at Glasgow, where an office move prompted a change in policy. “We moved 10 minutes further from the city centre, and Đ after consulting with staff and the local bus company - took the opportunity to remove car parking,” explains associate transport planner Jonathan Plant.
Employees now pay £250 a year for one of the 30 “green” spaces available but, as demand outstripped supply, the company developed a scoring system to decide who should be eligible for them. Criteria include public transport accessibility, journey time and car sharing.
“If someone applied for a space but lived close to a good bus route, they scored lower than people who lived in a more inaccessible location,” explains Plant.
The money collected from parking charges goes into a green travel fund, which enables the company to subsidise bus travel. Employees pay 50p for a bus ticket and the remaining 60p for a standard single ticket on First Group buses comes from the fund. Staff can have up to 10 tokens per week.
Since 2002. Bovis Lendlease has had a contract with Defence Estates to upgrade single-living accommodation for the armed forces, known as Project SLAM. The firm has developed two standard house types, one built using traditional construction and the other using modular build.
Bovis put this to the test by making a direct comparison on the basis of a 54-bed space development built in both construction methods. Senior environmental manager, Andrew Kinsey tracked the journey of every item that would be needed to build the units at a site in Catterick, comparing transport costs from each supplier direct to site and to the modular builder in Newark. “We got a complete footprint that enabled us to compare modular and traditional,” says Kinsey.
He found that the modular build resulted in CO2 savings of 33t Đ the equivalent of all the carbon emitted by three people living in the UK for a year.
The Catterick site actually has over 1,000 bed spaces, resulting in equivalent carbon savings of 117 people. Kinsey has calculated that offsetting this amount of CO2 would require planting about 5,000 trees using most of the popular schemes.
Project SLAM has brought other benefits, including bathroom pod manufacturer Badekabiner opening a factory in Newcastle. Not only has quality improved, but a saving of 250t of CO2 has been made in the last two years by not having to transport the units from Denmark.
Kinsey’s latest challenge is to measure the carbon footprint of an entire construction project, the Cambridge Grand Arcade development. Working with the Carbon Neutral Company and Edinburgh Trust for Carbon Management, he is hoping to get data that can be compared with other sites in future, in the same way as the firm does with waste footprints.
Case study 3:
Gifford is accredited by CIBSE as a low carbon consultancy, and has set a provisional target for its own office estate to be carbon neutral by 2012, following the government’s targets. “Until we get all our data together we don’t know how realistic it is to do this which is why the commitment is provisional,” explains technical director Simon Price. Gifford is about to start work for the Highways Agency looking at alternative power supplies for equipment such as lighting and communications and at the value of the agency’s soft estate Đ verges and central reservations Đ for offsetting. “There might be an opportunity to think about the extent to which it could be managed it to achieve better sequestration of carbon,” explains Price.
Hats off to Balfour Beatty!
UK’s largest contractor Balfour Beatty currently measures its carbon footprint at 172,171t CO2 equivalent - a 27% reduction in four years - and has pledged to cut a further 10% off energy costs across the business.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the equivalent amount of CO2 emitted during the activities of an individual or business. These are usually calculated on the basis of energy consumption in three areas:
operating a home or business (lighting, heating, air-conditioning); appliances (fridges, computers, TVs); and travel.
The term “carbon neutral” applies to a company or business that has reduced its carbon emissions to zero. Emissions can be minimised by steps such as using low-energy appliances, reducing travel and investing in renewable energy. But genuine zero carbon living relies on offsetting the carbon you are using Đ i.e. finding a way to generate new CO2 to offset your emissions.
Most schemes involve planting trees, which absorb CO2, thereby taking it out of the atmosphere, but opinion is divided as to the efficacy of this, and new schemes are being developed.
And how do I work out my personal footprint?
To calculate your personal carbon footprint Đ and get hints on how to reduce it Đ visit the government’s Act on CO2 sit http://actonCO2.direct.gov.uk
Businesses can get advice on reducing carbon emissions from the government, as well as from organisations like the Carbon Trust (www.carbontrust.co.uk) and the Carbon Neutral Company (www.carbonneutral.com)
CARBON REDUCTION ACTIONS
- Installing green roofs
- Using prefabricated materials
- More efficient vehicles
- Encouraging employees to switch off PCs and monitors
- Automatic light switches
- Reduced lift availability at low-use times
- Mandatory double-sided printing
Following the five-step carbon management process developed by Carbon Trust. Seeking to embed carbon reduction/energy efficiency within the culture of the company, and to quantify and reduce the company’s footprint.
Some offices have set up carbon champion teams to drive improvements at a local level. A “switch off and unplug” campaign has achieved a 10% decrease in electricity consumption.
- Energy-efficient lighting
- Sustainability guidelines for reducing emissions in new buildings
- Secured a supply of 100% renewable energy for the first phase of Stratford City (equivalent to saving 430t of CO2 a year)
- Green electricity
- Promoting telephone and video conferencing
- Trial project in Basingstoke office to install advanced energy saving measures during office refurb
- Reduced the average emission level of company cars from 172gm/kg to 141gm/kg
- Green travel plans for each office
- Energy surveys for all offices
- Offset all flight emissions
- Encourage rail travel and disincentivise car travel
- Employee-led discussion forums to encourage ideas
- Car pooling
- Cycle-to-work schemes
- Bringing its fleet into line with Low Emission Zones
- Better vehicle technology and choice
- Set up a director-level strategic environmental steering group to review climate change implications of all activities
- Working with the Energy Savings Trust to review all vehicles
- Using the Carbon Trust to survey the HQ building
- A fleet of dual fuel and energy efficient cars and vans
- Using refurbishments as
a chance to address energy efficiency issues
- Dedicated videoconferencing suites in 10 offices
- Double-sided printers
- New heating and cooling system
- Cleaner lease fleet
- Transferred 18 UK offices onto certified renewable energy contract
- Poster campaigns to raise awareness