Accelerating action on carbon

Georgina Taylor, HSEQ Director
13 February 2024
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Amey recently celebrated the award of PAS 2080:2023 designer certification from the British Standards Institution (BSI) which certifies the ability to design and integrate carbon reduction across the full-lifecycle of projects. Georgina Taylor, Amey’s HSEQ Director - Consulting, explains the challenges ahead to accelerate the road to Net Zero.

Standards underpin the design, construction and management of infrastructure. And it’s fair to say that engineers are good at complying with them, ensuring that the public is kept safe, that our infrastructure works efficiently, and that scarce public money is spent effectively.

But times are changing. The climate emergency is driving infrastructure professionals to challenge the status quo and seek better solutions to a raft of newly emerging problems. It is this requirement for a new culture of change that underpins the latest revision of PAS 2080, the world’s first specification for managing whole-life carbon in infrastructure.

This revision of PAS 2080 comes in direct response to the urgency of the climate emergency. No longer is the journey towards a Net Zero carbon infrastructure future one of gradual evolution. Instead, the standard openly urges a design-thinking revolution to accelerate the required change and ensure that legally binding targets to become Net Zero by 2050 are met.

Infrastructure’s duty to act on carbon

While many different numbers are routinely quoted, the accepted reality is that the design, construction and operation of buildings and infrastructure is responsible for some 80% of developed countries’ carbon emissions. It may be slightly higher; it may be slightly lower. But the stark reality is that infrastructure professionals have a responsibility – perhaps even a moral duty – to lead the required change.

Because driving change towards a Net Zero future is no longer optional. In fact, we will soon start to see the need to embed PAS 2080 principles for low carbon infrastructure management become part of every professional’s duty to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct alongside the need for openness, fairness, honesty and integrity.

PAS 2080 approach is central to driving this change in thinking. It can help us transition buildings and infrastructure to Net Zero, but also help increase resilience to climate change by embracing nature-based solutions and contribute to biodiversity net gain.

Collaboration at the heart of change

The revised PAS 2080 is intended to drive collaborative working and systems thinking. It is a fundamental change in approach. Decades of ingrained professional training means that engineers routinely follow a largely siloed, tried-and-tested, standards-driven route towards the best design solutions using established materials and a range of proven techniques. And to be fair, this has served society well.

Until now. The urgency of change needed to underpin our Net Zero carbon future means that if we continue to do simply what we have always done, our targets will be missed.

When Amey achieved its PAS 2080:2023 designer certification last year, it was the result of a huge amount of effort across the business, not just from a compliance perspective but also from a psychological perspective. This certification demonstrated our ability to shift the culture of the business; to work together to embrace the behavioural change required to ensure that PAS 2080 becomes business as usual for the organisation.

We needed to challenge our standardised thinking, first internally across every part of our integrated infrastructure services businesses and then externally with our clients and partners to bring them on board with the new thinking. Given the scale of our activities and range of clients this was no simple task.

So having ticked the box of designer certification, our task ahead is to continue to drive cultural and behavioural change, putting carbon, the environment, and sustainable infrastructure and delivery at the forefront of our thinking. This means driving a cultural shift towards a sustainable “future first” approach across the business.

Further and faster across the whole lifecycle

The latest revision without question challenges us to go even further and even faster with this change. The specification now drives the industry towards a lifecycle approach to carbon – and aims to accelerate progress in the realisation that change cannot wait; it has to happen now.

In many ways, this should be a daunting prospect for every infrastructure professional.  After all, if it were simple, we would have been doing it years ago. Success means driving out carbon by creating and delivering the best strategies and solutions for clients not just in design, not just in construction, not just in operation but across the whole life of infrastructure assets.

The good news is that is precisely how Amey’s integrated service delivery business operates. In fact, our recently launched ESG strategy sets out a bold ambition for culture change across the business and demonstrates our desire to go beyond simply playing lip-service to the Net Zero carbon challenge by actively learning from the industry’s past behavioural change successes, such as embedding health and safety thinking across the supply chain.

‘No’ is not an answer

This means, for example, asking simple questions around everything we do. Why are we using hot applied white lining rather than cold; why are we using hot mix asphalt rather that lower temperature asphalt; why are we using steel rather than composite lighting columns; why are we using concrete rather than composite railway sleepers?

Simple questions, of course, but too often overcoming them usually means a difficult challenge to existing client specifications or, more likely, an awkward conversation to bridge the “way we always do it” mentality.

Not taking ‘no’ for an answer is a good place to start. Across the supply chain and across disciplines we have to accept a new culture in which it is difficult or awkward to not ask questions and challenge the status quo.

Supply chain solutions

The latest revision to PAS 2080 should make this easier. By clarifying the role of each part of the infrastructure value chain in controlling and influencing whole life carbon, the transition and required systems-level change should be accelerated. Four main roles are identified.

  • Asset owners or managers,
  • Designers,
  • Constructors, and
  • Product and materials suppliers

Amey’s structure means we are deeply engaged across three of these four roles. Our systems-wide approach and ability to provide clients with true end-to-end services enables carbon reduction and a Net Zero outcome to be embedded.

And we are making progress. Our internal challenge started by breaking down the silos that naturally – perhaps unnaturally – exist across the once separate, now umbilically linked design, construction and operation business streams. We are now able to use this internal culture shift as a platform to accelerate change externally and start the more difficult process of decarbonising outcomes by incentivising the entire value chain.

Part of the challenge is helping the entire supply chain to understand the problem being solved. PAS 2080 recognises this and has simplified the carbon reduction hierarchy to avoid confusion. This is now paired down to three levels:

  • Avoid emissions by utilising existing assets rather than constructing new
  • Switch to lower carbon alternative options
  • Improve design and technological efficiency

Amey’s goal is to work closely with clients to help them to properly understand this hierarchy and then build in the long-term carbon-reduction strategy around that knowledge. For example, a data-led approach can focus decision making on extending the life of the asset and therefore avoiding or delaying reconstruction.

The start of a new client journey

We understand that there is much more to the challenge. Our clients are up against it on cost – in particular in the public sector but also in the private sector. We need therefore to unambiguously establish how we can, for example, help local authorities, central government departments and private asset owners to drive their decision making across the whole life of assets.

We need to ensure that they understand how investment to build in resilience can provide lower overall cost and deliver sustainable infrastructure solutions in the longer term. It is vital, therefore, that we incentivise the value chain to innovate and drive the lower carbon solutions required to deliver better overall outcomes.

Our work for National Highways on the A663 Broadway M60 J21 Junction Improvements underlines this philosophy. The main driver for the scheme investment is safety and congestion improvement and required highways realignment works, bridge parapet upgrades, and upgrade of active travel facilities.

But by applying PAS 2080 Designer principles we have also now seen a 50% carbon reduction saving through early collaboration and engagement with client, contractor and supply chain and, where appropriate, a number of departures from standard to help drive innovative new products and techniques. These principles continue across a number of our projects – within the rail sector, we’re working closely with clients to apply our engineering expertise to upgrade and repair bridges, removing the carbon impact of major construction work, and across our school’s maintenance programmes we’re creating Net Zero strategies to ultimately decarbonise estates.

Wider thinking – bigger outcomes

This demonstrates how Amey’s position as an infrastructure service delivery partner has provided a clear advantage when it comes to this whole life approach to carbon and the ability to think wider. Being already deeply engaged with our clients on the planning, design, delivery, operation and maintenance of assets over long periods should help to make the management of carbon second nature.

Sustainability and resilience are not generally considered early enough in the infrastructure life cycle. We need to make long-term considerations the default option when looking at the initial business case for infrastructure.

Provided, of course, that we are able to make the case for change. We truly believe that by embedding the PAS 2080 process and philosophy deeply into our business and into our client relationships that case for accelerated change will be made.

The future is about delivering better outcomes to clients. Certainly, price, performance and safety must always come into the discussion, but this is now being routinely seen alongside the ability to also deliver greater social, environmental, Net Zero carbon and, of course, community value outcomes.

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