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Clients hold the key to CO2 cuts

Since reporting its findings last year, infrastructure sector businesses have been lining up in support of the Infrastructure Carbon Review, which said efforts to unblock barriers to CO2 reduction hinge on client leadership. Jon Masters reports.

Olympic Park: Emissions were cut after targets were set early in the programme

Emissions were cut after targets were set early in the programme

Engineers designing the construction, operation or maintenance of infrastructure assets should now be hearing a key message from clients: low carbon solution are desirable and carbon reduction innovations will be received favourably.

Clients to the UK infrastructure sector are among a group of 27 industry leaders that have signed up to the findings of the Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) since it was published in November 2013.

A further, similar sized group is expected to follow suit at an event sponsored by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) next month. Signatories will be asked to make individual carbon reduction commitments appropriate to their own organisations.

Product suppliers said they have great ideas but cannot get them to market - there is a constipation in the value chain

This promises to clear one of the blockages that the authors of the ICR report found was hindering low carbon infrastructure: a lack of drive from clients.

“We interviewed around 100 people from all sectors and all parts of the value chain. When we spoke to each of these layers, they all thought it was a good idea to drive down carbon, but had different reasons why they felt restricted in doing so,” explains ICR lead author and Mott MacDonald water and environment group practice manager Mark Enzer.

“The product suppliers said they have great ideas but cannot get them into the market because designers are not specifying them and contractors are not buying them,” he continues. “Designers and contractors said customers are not asking for low carbon - it’s not in the specification.

“Speak to the customers and they say of course this is a good idea, it’s going to save us money, but we don’t feel we can because our investors force us to take a more short term view, or the regulators are not telling us to,” he adds.

“Regulators say they do not have the necessary mandate from government. Interestingly, government says there is nothing stopping you, just go and do it.

“There is a constipation in the value chain that can be addressed,” Enzer concludes.

To continue his metaphor, the laxative should be taken at the client or customer level in the value chain - and the pill is procurement and leadership.

“If you boil it down, what the report is really saying is that clients have just got to ask for low carbon solutions via their procurement methodologies. Then the supply chain will provide them,” says Enzer. “And if it’s true that carbon reduction drives down cost, then they’re going to save money. It sounds simplistic, but that’s what it comes down to.”

Causal link

The research and writing of the ICR spun out of the Infrastructure Cost Review published by Infrastructure UK in 2010. Industry leaders are aware of a causal link between carbon and cost.

The government is committed to achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and infrastructure operators have control over 16% of the UK’s carbon emissions footprint, the ICR says.

“Anglian Water’s @one Alliance is one organisation driving the low carbon agenda,” says Enzer. “After the regulator Ofwat asked all of the major water companies to baseline the carbon emissions of their AMP5 (asset management plan) programmes, Anglian Water’s engineering manager Chris Newsome challenged the @one Alliance to deliver a 50% reduction in embodied carbon and a 20% cut in operational carbon.

“It worked out well for them, achieving 39% and 34% [reductions] respectively, contributing to a 22% reduction in capital expenditure,” he adds.

“There were other cost savings as well, but driving down carbon has been central to Anglian Water’s AMP5 programme and has given a new angle to an old problem.”

Carbon reduction can come from designing it out, or clients can build less and make better use of what they have

Newsome is chair of the infrastructure working group of the Green Construction Board, which along with BIS commissioned the carbon cost study. According to Enzer, work on the ICR was carried out with a collaborative approach, drawing in data and evidence from 300 organisations and a variety of key documents on carbon emissions.

“We spread the research quite wide, including an extensive literature review of over 200 documents and case studies, working with a steering group drawn from the infrastructure working group,” he explains.

“As we were working through and making sense of the findings, we were challenged by these groups at each and every stage.”

The ICR is not about energy generation. Nor is it about carbon used by end users, although there is a link to wider discussions on infrastructure policy (see box). The ICR concerns operational carbon and ‘capital carbon’, the term chosen for carbon emissions embodied in the construction of infrastructure.

The report does not give specific means to reduce carbon in each sector, but it does include case studies such as the Olympic Delivery Authority’s 25% reduction, achieved by setting targets at an early pre-procurement stage.

Generally, the report is about resource and energy efficiency and grabbing the low hanging fruit by implementing a contractual or cultural shift towards carbon reduction from the top down. There are carbon savings to be made at every stage in the delivery process, Enzer says. All parts of the supply chain have a big role to play. But the biggest reductions are available from the start.

Signatories to the ICR so far include Costain, Carillion, Galliford Try, Atkins, Arup and Murphy, as well as the Highways Agency, Network Rail, Heathrow Airport, National Grid, EdF and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

“Clients don’t have to spend to save. Carbon reduction can come from designing it out, or clients can build less and make better use of what they have,” Enzer says.

“It is up to each sector to decide what is the best balance between capital and operational carbon. It sets up some interesting debates, but certainly industry needs to be more whole life conscious.”

Future of carbon reduction is about ‘building clever’

Traffic: Big CO2 contributor

Traffic is a big CO2 contributor

Arup director Tim Chapman chairs the ICE’s low carbon infrastructure committee and sat on the ICR steering group as author of the Green Construction Board’s route map to decarbonising infrastructure.

“There is now a lot more realisation of what is needed to decarbonise infrastructure. It’s now about building clever, not just building less or just considering initial cost,” explains Chapman, who says he is “very proud” of the collaboration in the ICR. He points to Mott MacDonald’s technical report behind the ICR as being particularly useful and “containing some very good numbers”.

Among these was a summary of the contributions of the construction, operation and use of infrastructure to the UK’s overall emissions. One of the biggest numbers is transport’s usage contribution of 156.1M.t of CO2 equivalent emissions per year.

This figure is effectively out of the remit of the ICR, but forms a big part of the overall infrastructure policy debate.

“The argument for High Speed 2 (HS2) is partly about carbon, as it will free up capacity for more freight on rail and fewer HGVs on the roads,” Chapman says. “Construction of HS2 represents about 7M.t of capital carbon, roughly equal to the UK’s annual spend, which is a large amount but actually represents very good value if it changes the way people travel.

“Decarbonising infrastructure is all about systems and nuances,” he adds. “There is a lot to debate for each sector and asset. Sensible grown-up decisions are needed. Step-free access at all London Underground stations is high in capital carbon but necessary for a civilised society. Likewise, rebuilding a motorway junction is high in carbon but may be essential to reduce congestion.”

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