Enhanced carbon management – a step change towards greater efficiencies and environmental responsibility
By Caroline Toplis, Nottingham
The current state of play
Infrastructure is associated with over half of all UK carbon emissions, 30% of which is directly attributed to the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure assets, and the remaining 70% attributed to the users of infrastructure.
Furthermore, since 2000, the real cost of resources has risen by 150% due to increased demand, declining reserves and increased cost extraction and processing costs. The UK’s infrastructure sector recognises the immediate need to reduce the carbon footprint associated with construction, operation and maintenance, and the cost, resource and sustainability benefits that taking action will deliver. Using fewer and/or alternative materials with lower manufacturing and transport related emissions, higher recycled content and durability will reduce the carbon footprint of projects, whilst helping the sector become resilient to resource price increases and resource scarcity.
The publication of ‘PAS 2080: Carbon Management in Infrastructure’ reinforces the importance of developing a mechanism for managing and reducing whole-life carbon impacts of infrastructure, which will impact on future local authority strategic planning decisions. The Government’s Construction 2025 strategy and the Infrastructure Carbon Review further stress the importance of taking action now.
Local authority highway departments need to act now to maximise the benefits of reducing the carbon impact of their highway design, construction, maintenance and operational activities by identifying and implementing effective and realistic processes, procedures and techniques.
Four ways for effective carbon reduction
Carbon management and reduction can be carried out at any stage of a project. However, the earlier carbon is considered, the greater the opportunity for significant carbon reduction initiatives to be identified and implemented. Carbon reduction can be achieved through:
- · Building nothing: through challenging the root cause of the need, and exploring alternative approaches to achieving the desired outcome.
- · Building less: through maximising the use of existing assets, and optimising asset operation and management to reduce the extent of new construction required.
- · Building clever: through designing in the use of low carbon materials, streamlining delivery processes, and minimising resource consumption.
- · Building efficiently: through embracing new construction technologies and eliminating waste.
All parties involved in infrastructure design, planning, construction, operation and maintenance have a role to play in realising the benefit of low carbon solutions, with individuals at the centre of infrastructure planning, design, programme/asset management and development having the greatest opportunity to drive change forward.
Achieving carbon reductions in infrastructure often depends on robust leadership, effective governance and integration of key carbon management process components into existing delivery processes. Ways in which carbon can be better managed in highways projects include:
In Procurement and Design:
- Setting carbon reduction targets, with associated baselines and monitoring points
- Embedding carbon reduction requirements within procurement and contract processes
- Procurement of locally sourced materials to reduce emissions associated with transportation
- Designing infrastructure to promote and facilitate efficient driving, minimise congestion, and promote sustainable forms of transport
In Construction, Maintenance and Operation:
- Using recycled and/ or secondary materials
- Utilisation of existing assets (through retrofitting and upgrade etc.)
- Using lightweight and pre-fabricated structures
- Using low energy street lighting, reducing the number of lights, and implementation of ‘switch off’ and dimming initiatives
A step change towards a low-carbon future
Taking action to reduce the carbon impact of highway construction, maintenance and operational activities can lead to a number of multiple-benefits for local authorities, which include:
Reduced cost, through resource efficiency and the use of alternative materials influencing the wider supply chain methods of practice.
- A culture of innovation and collaboration.
- Enhanced sustainable symbiotic network and systems.
- Enhanced reputational benefits and reduced reputational risk.
- Increased long-term sustainable decisions on the management of investments and assets.
As the uptake of PAS 2080 increases, and carbon reduction across infrastructure projects moves to becoming a mandatory legislative requirement in the UK, there is an increasing need for the highway sector to take a consistent approach to reducing the capital and whole-life carbon impacts of highway activities. Ultimately, the effective and sustainable management of highways assets can also contribute to the global challenge of tackling climate change.