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Walking the talk on climate change action

Walking the talk on climate change action

The net zero carbon agenda is changing the infrastructure landscape at an unprecedented pace and the recent series of environmental announcements made by leading companies in the sector promises to further accelerate that change. “There’s a genuine commitment and drive to innovate within our industry”, says Lara Young, Costain’s Group climate change director, “the decarbonisation of infrastructure is a necessity and can be best addressed with a whole life cycle approach. We need to widen the scope of how we design, deliver and use infrastructure to include systematic consideration of the impacts and emissions of every phase of an asset’s life cycle”.

Last week Costain launched its Climate Change Action Plan, which sets out the Group’s commitment to deliver low carbon solutions to every client by 2023 and to be net zero by 2035 at the latest without offsetting. The smart infrastructure solutions provider has taken the industry leading stance of tackling not only their direct group footprint but that of their clients and supply chains, therefore reducing Scope 3 emissions, in line with their whole life cycle business approach. The £150m upgrade of Gatwick Airport station, awarded to Costain in July 2019, is a case in point. Reduction of the project’s carbon footprint requires a review of sustainability and energy saving opportunities throughout the whole supply chain with a proposed design set to provide an estimated annual operational cost saving of more than £58,000 and an annual carbon emission reduction of 143 tonnes. 

Addressing climate change is not a new endeavour for Costain and many tools and approaches have helped ensure the foundations for delivering on its climate change action plan are solid. It has been committed to and delivered operational and embodied carbon reductions in infrastructure assets for over a decade and over the past five years, the Group’s total carbon emissions have reduced by 40%. Costain has also been working with partners and clients to decarbonise energy and transport through projects such as the Acorn carbon capture and storage scheme (CCS) for Pale Blue Dot Energy, which is helping to decarbonise gas facilities and pave the way for a hydrogen economy, bringing the UK much closer to a sustainable energy future. 

In 2015, Costain began its influential role in shaping the development of PAS2080, the world’s first specification for managing whole life carbon within infrastructure. The Costain and Skanska joint venture (CSjv), designing and delivering the London tunnels section of HS2’s first phase, has made great strides to reduce the carbon footprint. Aided by the implementation of PAS2080 the carbon baseline has been reduced by 19%. The CSjv is one of the first HS2 main works contractors to have qualified for PAS2080 certification. Having implemented the specification across several other contracts, Costain has set the ambitious target of achieving Group wide verification in 2020.

Another demonstration of the whole life cycle approach is Costain’s self-created Resource Efficiency Matrix (REM). This is one of the first programmes of this scale in the industry and to date has saved clients over £6 million in operational and delivery costs in addition to over 1.25 million tonnes of carbon emissions equivalent (tCO2eq). The REM ensures projects are planned, designed and delivered in the most carbon conscious way, optimising management of carbon emissions, materials, logistics, waste and water. Every contract, regardless of size and sector, is structured around the REM framework and undergoes an evaluation to ensure it meets the benchmark award for that year.

Lara explains: “Focusing on reducing carbon as early as possible within the life cycle of a project has enabled us to maximise the biggest reduction opportunities which is why our REM has had such an impact - it’s used from the set-up phase of every contract.” Lara continues: “The REM also ensures a consistent, easy to communicate approach which means we can really engage the project team, client and supply chain to learn from the REM evaluation and continue to drive down carbon emissions across the industry.”

In 2018 the REM started with a Bronze standard benchmark which saw the group-wide mandate for all systematic mains connections to be 100% carbon neutral, Renewable Energy Guarantees Origin (REGO) energy backed tariffs. An early adopter of hybrid, hydrogen and various other energy efficient technologies across the infrastructure landscape, the Group had already mandated in 2017 for the systematic adoption of hybrid and energy efficient plant and technology for all project power setups where mains power was not possible. In 2019, the Silver benchmark award saw contracts adopt the use of telemetry data for plant and machinery to provide unprecedented insight into utilisation efficiency and drive down the industry challenge of plant idling. This year, the Gold standard is putting Costain in an industry leading position for embedding the principles of PAS2080. Gold standard was awarded for the first time in December 2019 to the Tideway East project .

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a £3.8 billion, 25 kilometre super sewer being built under the River Thames. Costain has been working alongside client, Tideway, and in joint venture with VINCI Construction Grands Projets and Bachy Soletanche on the East section of the tunnel. Numerous carbon savings were identified by challenging existing specifications and designs to reduce materials, waste and associated emissions. The carbon baseline has also helped Tideway to gain access to Green bonds, a first for the industry.

Costain’s leading work in decarbonisation is further informed by in-depth research into the topic, collaborating with the Centre for Business and Climate Change at the University of Edinburgh since 2015 and supporting the research of a PhD candidate in Carbon Management there since 2017. This research has informed the development of an inhouse carbon management tool designed to ensure no additional time and cost is required in the identification of carbon ‘hot-spots’ and is set to deliver a step change in carbon management on infrastructure projects.

Technology is already playing a key role in Costain’s climate change and carbon reduction journey. Removing excavated material (spoil) from National Grid’s £324 million London Power Tunnels (LPT) scheme presented a significantly carbon intensive exercise. Thanks to a sustainability workshop led by the client at the outset of the project that included all members of the supply chain, an innovative solution was identified that involved reusing the spoil as a secondary backfill material for disused gas holder sites. This approach, enabled by the smart technology solution, Podfather, ensured over 60,000 loads of spoil were successfully tracked, helping to ensure regulatory compliance and eliminating 4,838 HGV journeys, which saved 1,049tCO2eq and £2.94 million.

Lara adds: “Decarbonising UK infrastructure is a huge challenge, but our growing digital capability and enhanced data insight will be key to developing more low and net zero carbon solutions. Now with our climate change action plan, we are committed more than ever to helping our clients and the wider industry benefit from our tried and tested solutions and to continuing to push boundaries that will provide even more innovative answers to the climate change challenge.”


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