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Round Table | Circular Economy

Carbon bw crop

Can you cut cost and carbon on major infrastructure projects? That was the question posed at a recent round table debate, held by New Civil Engineer in association with Reconomy,  a provider of outsourced recycling and resource management.

The combined challenges of carbon and cost cutting is something the whole industry should embrace, said Reconomy managing director Matt Nichols.

“This has to be an objective for all of us to share,” he said. “There are not only benefits from an environmental prospective, but there are without question commercial benefits too.”

Referring to the Infrastructure Carbon Review published by the Treasury in 2013, Nichols warned that UK has a legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Matt nichols bw crop

Matt nichols bw crop

Nichols: We have a low carbon commitment

“The impact on infrastructure on those carbon emissions is dramatic. In 2010, 53% of the UK’s emissions were from the infrastructure sector, operational and actual construction. By 2025 that rises to 80% and by 2050 that rises to 90%. It’s an enormous challenge.

Treasury links costs and carbon

“Interestingly the Treasury made the direct correlation between reducing carbon output and reducing costs. To those who have the view that carbon reduction is a ‘nice to have but we can’t afford it’, the two now go hand-in-hand,” he said.

Nichols highlighted the fact that the construction of Tideway tunnel in London is estimated to generate 8M.t of excavated material and High Speed 2, 132M.t.

“It’s about innovation and collaboration and doing things differently together. That is the only way we are going to meet the targets as an industry.”

Leading the change

Costain group innovation and knowledge director Tim Embley said that clients were already doing a lot to lead the change and were providing “collective leadership” across the industry.

“A lot of lessons learned from Crossrail have been taken to Tideway and it’s clear that the supply chain has started to embrace looking at the whole life of the asset and understanding the value of carbon and drive innovation,” he said.

“The client leadership across these projects is driving a behaviour change within the supply chain and from a contractor point of view we can use our resources more effectively to invest in research and innovation.”

Engaging the supply chain

Morgan Sindall director of sustainability and procurement Graham Edgell argued that the supply chain had “no idea” when it came to carbon. Edgell is also a director at the Supply Chain School – a collaboration between clients, contractors and first tier suppliers that have a mutual interest in building the skills of their supply chain.

“Generally they are instructed by the main contractor to behave in a certain way on every job and probably differently depending on the nature of the project. Until we engage those guys and make them understand the ramifications of what they do and how they operate, they will reduce embedded carbon only if you tell them,” said Edgell.

Graham edgell bw crop

Graham edgell bw crop

Edgell: We must engage with supply chain

“The main contractors are tied by price constraint and are working tirelessly to reduce their operational carbon, while the embedded carbon is down to the client because it is cost driven.

“The leadership is good, but we need to identify where the pound is. In a 2% [margin] industry you need to identify where the cost is and where the savings are.”

Edgell told the round table how his company had recently completed an exercise asking the top 50 contractors how they managed their waste.

“We all say the same thing. Between 90% and 95% is diverted from landfill. Where is it then? It is not being recycled. The industry needs to make waste measurable and use a consistent measure.”

Embracing technology

Taylor Woodrow commercial director Gary Mayo agreed, but added that the client should not just set targets, they should take a leadership role too.

“We can sit around a table and ask where  the research and development (R&D) is, where the aggregates are, and where is the clever ground engineering. But someone needs to take a lead to bring everyone together and really push the boundaries.

Gary mayo bw crop

Gary mayo bw crop

Mayo: Clients must take the lead

“I’m not sure the industry is really embracing technology and willing to take risks. We ask the clients to take the lead, not just set targets, and let the R&D come through.”

Making incremental changes

“There are real differences between the incremental changes we can make,” argued Tarmac senior major projects manager Tom Bateson.

Using cement manufacturing as an example, he said: “We can look at what we can do to reduce the carbon in that cement, whether it is the energy we’re using, whether it is putting up wind turbines to help with the power.

“These are the incremental bits we can do, and then there is the step change which proves more difficult.”

Tideway head of environmental sustainability Darren White used his experience of working on the 2012 Olympics to argue that there was step change at the Olympics, but it could have been better.

“We did learn lessons. We were very strict from the sustainable development strategy that certain materials had to achieve 20% recycled content, and when we met with the suppliers afterwards they explained we could have achieved more if they had been a bit more flexible.”

White used the example of shipping materials from the other side of the world just to meet the 20% recycled content requirement, compared to sourcing material more locally with a similar composition.

The construction industry’s exchange

“This is absolutely achievable,” argued Reconomy’s Nichols, when asked if hubs could be set up for the industry to deposit, store and use materials.

“It is about having the supply chain and the logistics set up. You need the knowledge of what is going to be required, when it is needed, and to be able to make that commitment to the whole of the supply chain.”

Nichols added that there was huge potential to make this system work and learn from the previous attempts of creating material exchanges that may have been ahead of their time.

Morgan Sindall’s Edgell explained how the Supply Chain School was in the process of setting up a material exchange with 40 of the top 50 contractors and the five aggregate companies already signed up.

“The circular economy is about the milk run. If we can generate that impetus then it will happen,” he concluded.


Around the table

Christina Allen Programme manager, sustainability, BSI

Tom Bateson Senior major projects manager, Tarmac

Steve Cockerell Industry marketing, director – rail and road, Bentley Systems

Chris Cox Head of business development, Reconomy

Graham Edgell Director of sustainability and procurement, Morgan Sindall

Tim Embley Group innovation and knowledge director, Costain

Jeremy Fidlin Business development manager, Reconomy

Matthew Lugg Director of public services, WSP

Adrian Marsh Director, RSK Environment

Gary Mayo Commercial director, Taylor Woodrow

Matt Nichols Marketing director, Reconomy

Laura Rafferty Group procurement, VolkerWessels UK

Darren White Head of environmental sustainability, Tideway

Richard Walker Marketing manager, Reconomy


In association with

Reconomy logo

Reconomy logo

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