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As an industry, carbon is an area that we really need to get to grips with.

Author: Peter Fisher, Safety, Health & Environmental Director

The infrastructure sector accounts for more than 50% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and if we do not adopt low carbon best practice, the UK will not meet its commitment of an 80% reduction by 2050.

Two years ago, the Infrastructure Carbon Review identified how we as an industry should be looking at our broader carbon impact. This includes both embodied carbon – the energy it takes to extract, process and deliver materials to site – and also carbon associated with operating an asset.

Another government publication, Construction 2025, set the industry the challenge of reducing the whole life cost of built assets by 33%, and lowering emissions by 50%. Costain has signed up to helping achieve these targets, as have most of our customers and some suppliers. And there is a clear link between the two: where you reduce your carbon, you also reduce your costs.

Over the last two years our Group Carbon Manager, Damien Canning has been instrumental in quantifying all the aspects of the carbon equation that we’re responsible for. That means considering embodied carbon as early in the design phase as possible; and also making sure people aren’t just considering cost and time implications when value engineering, but that they are also looking through a carbon lens.

We set up an internal working group to identify which discipline has the best set of data and is engaging with the project at the right time to have the most impact on carbon reduction, and concluded that estimators are best placed. They are building up prices, and we specifically wanted carbon and cost to be looked at together.

Next month will see the launch of PAS 2080 – a specification for quantifying whole life carbon in infrastructure. Costain has been represented on both the steering group and technical advisory panel for the publication, and we think many customers will soon start asking for PAS 2080-ready projects, so they can compare carbon in different design solutions.

When we start a major infrastructure project, it is often a client requirement to build a carbon baseline. We go through the bill of quantities, and assign a carbon value to everything in it. From that, we have built an interactive dashboard that allows you to look at all the different resource types and the carbon associated with them.

That enables us to start talking to our suppliers, asking if they can give us lower carbon and lower cost solutions. It’s really good for identifying innovation opportunities. And it’s also a really good start from a design management perspective. What we want to do next is to use the price of carbon in every material (in £s per tonne of carbon embodied) to incentivise designers to reduce carbon. Our challenge here is to drive different behaviours.

We have already used carbon reduction to incentivise one of our key material suppliers on a major highways project; we set them a 20% carbon reduction KPI. Their design team worked with our design team and managed to reduce carbon by 23,000tCo2e, which equated to a significant reduction in cost.

If we had just set them a cost reduction target, they might have simply delivered the same materials and reduced the cost as much as they could. But because it was a carbon reduction target, they changed a lot of their practices, reduced waste in their quarries and substituted different materials.

The project is being used as an exemplar for the industry, and will feature as a case study for the next Infrastructure Carbon Review document and in the PAS 2080 guidance. It is a really powerful piece of work, and demonstrates the value of collaborating early with our supply chain.