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Cutting carbon | Carillion collapse has distracted industry from vital action

National Grid

Vital carbon reduction initiatives have stalled in the wake of the Carillion collapse, engineers have warned, and it is now time to act.

Management focus has shifted onto margins at the expense of considerations such as the environment, climate and carbon, it is suggested, yet, five years on from the Infrastructure Carbon review, there is now compelling evidence from leading clients that cutting the amount of carbon associated with creating an asset actually cuts the cost of creating it.

“The industry’s overall response has been poor,” said Skanska director of environment Adam Crossley. “It’s a missed opportunity to improve productivity and show great corporate responsibility.

“Partly, that’s because the industry is squeezed by short-term challenges, with climate change seen as being ‘in the future’,” he said. “Management teams have had their eyes on things such as margins, skills and the collapse of Carillion which has meant they haven’t been able to focus on the environment, climate and carbon as much they should.”

Crossley was talking to New Civil Engineer for a special report reflecting on five years of the Infrastructure Carbon Review and how the industry can take forward low carbon initiatives and make a more dramatic impact.

Other engineers backed Crossley’s view that the industry needs to up its game.

“Since 2015 we’ve given carbon a weighting of 5%-10% in all of our tenders,” said National Grid carbon specialist Alison Fulford. “My challenge to others in the industry is to take this seriously too.

“Our main delivery partners are closely matched on price and cost, and carbon introduces a new area for competition and differentiation. It allows them to show us ways they can innovate and add value. And it signals to them that we’re 100% serious about it.”

Mott MacDonald chief technical officer Mark Enzer added that taking action is easier than many think.

“The formula for cutting carbon is out there for anyone to use. The rewards are proven. It’s easy in principle and takes effort in practice. People just need to get on with it,” he said.

Five years on from Infrastructure Carbon Review

On 25 November it is five years since the government’s Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) was published. It investigated a link included as a side note in the Treasury’s 2010 Infrastructure Cost Review. After more than 100 interviews with senior infrastructure owners, operators, contractors, suppliers and consultants, and a review of some 200 documents, in November 2013 the ICR’s authors confirmed the Treasury’s hunch. They estimated that if the whole of the infrastructure industry adopted the low carbon strategies of leading practitioners, it would benefit by about £1.5bn/year.

That’s a useful amount of cash. But five years after the sum was done, it looks conservative. Leading ‘decarbonisers’ have outperformed the expectations of the government-sponsored Green Construction Board, which commissioned production of the ICR. Anglian Water has its sights set on a 70% capital carbon reduction by 2030, measured against its 2010 emissions benchmark. National Grid expects to hit 60% savings against its 2015 benchmark by 2020/21.

Carbon 1

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