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This generation's biggest challenge

Author: Phil Carson, business development manager for Power

A report was published towards the end of last year by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) claiming that the global temperature rise needed to be capped at 1.5° rather than the previously stated 2° (rise measured against pre-industrial global temperatures).

The last time the global temperature spiked in such a dramatic fashion was 56 million years ago when a vast quantity of carbon was injected into the earth’s atmosphere. The outcome of which completely flipped the world on its head. Jungles dominated by reptiles grew on the polar ice caps; the ocean around the equator rose to 36 degrees and became so acidic and almost impossible for marine life to exist… coral reefs all but disappeared. This warming event is estimated to have lasted 200,000 years; now imagine it happening in just a few hundred and think of the impact it will have on those who don’t have the means to adapt to this change.

If you’re interested in this, I’d recommend the video below:

For me it’s clear: this is the biggest challenge this generation faces.

The reason why this is so dramatic, and in response to people who think the only effect will be an increase in sunglasses sales, is we’re currently at 0.87° and the most conservative prediction I’ve found puts us at 2.8° by 2100.

Usually when people write about these things, it starts to get a bit gloomy at this point with a long list of the negative consequences the world will experience if nothing is done. I like to think of it the other way around: if we make a significant change to what we eat, how we move around and what we use to make energy, this is what can be achieved:


This generations biggest challenge
Figure 1: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45678338

Why this is a massive opportunity for businesses

Influx of talent

I grew up learning about the dangers of burning fossil fuels and the importance of caring for our planet (a large chunk of which came with the narration of David Attenborough) and I know first-hand how difficult it is to find a millennial who doesn’t care about the environment. With this age band now looking at what they want to devote their next 40 years to, a huge pool of talent stares longingly up at the businesses of the world for inspiration. A company that I admire is SSE having halved its carbon intensity since 2016 and continuing its commitment to investing in new renewable generation sites.

Those that build a strong reputation as a responsible, community led company aren’t just doing the right thing; it’s a significant investment in attracting the next generation of leaders to your cause.


A fear most pre-2000 energy companies felt was investment in green energy would lead to financial instability or downturn but this hasn’t proved to be the case. In 2016, global energy giant DONG Energy changed its name to Ørsted, its philosophy and its portfolio to fully renewable, green generation. Since this change (completed in 2016) the Danish company has experienced 80% growth from 252 to 455 DKK per share.


It’s no secret that a motivated and inspired workforce can be a force to be reckoned with. The first question people still ask when meeting someone new is “What do you do for a living?”; it’s still the case that what you do between the hours of 9am and 5pm hold a large part of your identity. A job isn’t just what you do, it’s a big part of who you are… so why not dedicate it to something you’ll be proud of? If I can be a tad self-indulgent, it’s one of the things I think Costain has got right, the intent of every project, and our purpose is that our work in some way improves people’s lives.

What are we doing about it?

I’m proud to say we have made some steps towards a greener infrastructure future.

Hydrogen has been identified as one of the potential pathways for decarbonisation of the gas system and in support of this change, Costain has founded the North West Hydrogen Alliance alongside Cadent, Peel Energy, Shell, Atkins and BOC. One initiative, HyNet, is a facility to convert methane into hydrogen ready to be used for heating homes or stored to support network flexibility.

I’ve had the privilege of working with our sustainability team recently. This group helps clients measure and account for carbon to reduce the environmental impact associated with their activity and makes sure the engineering solutions we provide are developed with the best sustainability approach.

Our team of sustainability engineers use a life cycle assessment tool that analyses carbon alongside several other key environmental impacts through the whole value chain and project life. It prevents ‘burden shifting’ to resolve an issue rather than simply displace the environmental impacts downstream.

This team is also responsible for the development of the Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool (CITT), project awarded by Volvo Construction Equipment as part of the Construction Climate Challenge.

This tool, first of its kind, aggregates data from multiple data sets (estimating, planning, design) and integrates carbon impacts associated with infrastructure projects. Unlike traditional top down baseline estimates, the CITT allows for a very granular bottom up assessment, which means engineers, designers and procurement specialists can act upon the output of the tool with confidence. As part of this process our team has developed a methodology which means carbon can be quantified alongside cost and time, without any additional labour input required. Because the processes we are integrating the carbon data into are standardised, we can achieve our aspiration of a standardised approach to carbon management. With this tool everyone will be able to construct their own baseline and dashboard for free and in an automated way, thus engaging industry and driving the changes we need in order to avoid increased cost due to future policy constraints and to drive low carbon innovation to the heart of industry.

Here is a link to the interview Noemi Arena, our sustainability leader, and Matthew Brander, lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and our partner in this project held during the Construction Climate Challenge conference last summer: 

One of our sustainable energy enthusiasts, Gareth Davis, has recently part authored a report for the IChemE’s Energy and Resource Efficiency Task Group; I’d recommend checking it out (it certainly inspired me!)

Global warming isn’t an issue for tomorrow, it’s happening right now and it’s up to us to make a meaningful and significant change. I’d very much like to continue not just this conversation but action that’s going on across industry, so please reach out if anything has resonated and we’d love the opportunity to contribute more.

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