ENVIRONMENT: Low-carbon construction cuts costs and improves performance
by Nigel Griffiths
As well as cutting greenhouse gases (GHG) and supporting climate action, reducing the carbon footprint of infrastructure construction can save money and improve performance.
This was the message that emerged from a recent seminar held in Birmingham, UK ‘Reducing Carbon in Infrastructure Construction’, organized by the Volvo CE-hosted Construction Climate Challenge (CCC).
Speakers from some of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe – Crossrail, High Speed Rail (HS2), Thames Tideway, among others – disclosed how the drive to reduce GHG and their carbon footprint is delivering substantial cost savings and better performance.
“By focusing on low carbon, you get the benefit of low cost,” said Mike Putnam, President and CEO of Skanska, and chairman of the UK government’s Green Construction Board.
THINK LOW CARBON
There was much discussion on the techniques and tools to reduce the carbon footprint of infrastructure projects and drive sustainability and low carbon thinking throughout the value chain.
A key issue was the need for greater collaboration across the industry to ensure that carbon-reduction targets can be met. “It is about collaboration with a capital C,” said Chris Newsome, chair of GCB Infrastructure Working Group and an executive director at Anglian Water.
“It needs leadership, early action, collaboration at the project level, program level and industry level – across businesses and in clusters. I believe we face a bright future in infrastructure in the UK and globally. But we need to make it a bright and low-carbon future,” he stressed.
Chair of the seminar, Dr Paul Toyne, a sustainability expert and London Sustainable Development Commissioner, said: “We are an industry that wants to provide low-carbon, affordable solutions. We need to prioritize effective working and collaboration. We have all got a part to play but we have to be a little bit smarter, work a little bit harder together and we can deliver these solutions.”
The seminar, held in partnership with the Green Construction Board with the combined support of Volvo CE and Volvo Trucks in the UK, brought together some 100 business leaders from major infrastructure projects, contractors and research bodies, including Skanska, Anglian Water, and Cambridge and Leeds universities, as well as government agencies.
The event covered an array of topics including the challenges of reducing carbon in infrastructure projects, tools and guidance to measure and achieve carbon
reduction, client expectations of their supply chains, and how new technology and low-carbon materials can help deliver substantial carbon and cost reductions with higher performance.
The UK’s ambitious environmental targets have been set at a 35% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025 and 80% by 2050. “Bold targets are needed as they stop the industry from just nibbling at the edges, and entice them to look at things fundamentally differently,” said Andy Mitchell, Chair of the Infrastructure Client Group and CEO of Thames Tideway Tunnel.
To help industry meet these targets, the world’s first standard for carbon management in infrastructure was launched in May 2016, called PAS 2080. Aimed at the members of the value chain, it provides a common language for industry to effectively reduce carbon. “The PAS 2080 guidelines should be implemented from the beginning, because it’s at the earliest stages where the greatest chance to reduce carbon and cost exists,” the meeting heard.
Mark Fenton of the major high-speed rail project HS2, confirmed this: “Only through collaboration across the supply chain will we be able to meet our objectives. PAS 2080 is key. It provides a framework to deliver low carbon.”
Jannik Giesekam, a sustainability expert at Leeds University, said that the more that Green House Gases (GHG) are mitigated in well-understood sectors like construction, the less we depend on other sectors which are less well understood. “Construction firms in 14 countries alone influence 4.4 gigaton of carbon dioxide of supply chain emissions.
If you can align supply chains you can meet objectives.”
Bill Law, senior vice president of Volvo CE which hosts the CCC project, said low-carbon infrastructure is now at the center of the climate debate. “In the UK, infrastructure is high on the political agenda and delivering it in a sustainable way is one of the big challenges the country faces.
“Volvo CE has long been committed to reducing harmful emissions from its products and facilities, but climate change is too big of an issue to be dealt with through the resources of one company alone. The CCC is a platform for the whole industry to come together. Together we have a better chance of finding solution. It doesn’t matter who takes the lead as long as the lead is taken.”