Code Red

Flash floods, heat waves and rising sea temperatures are just some of the reported impacts our behaviours are having on the world around us – effects that scientists warned us of decades ago.

With COP 26 just weeks away and the sixth assessment report on climate change released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Amey’s Head of Environment and Sustainability for Transport Infrastructure, Samantha Schofield, shares her thoughts on how our sector can bring decarbonisation to the forefront and change the way it works to limit the devastating impacts of code red.

The world’s climate has changed

Climate science tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the world’s climate has changed – and continues to change – at an unprecedented rate. Now, as we stand at a crossroads, we’re faced with a choice: ignore repeated warnings to reduce our carbon emissions or act before it’s too late. Decarbonisation, once the buzz word for our generation, is now a focus for all businesses. It’s no longer something that’s just included in corporate annual reports and given lip service to, it’s an action that requires us all to take responsibility for.

The good news is that many organisations, large and small, have recognised their responsibility to contribute towards creating sustainable communities and ensure that they leave a sustainable legacy for generations to come.

This year, the Department for Transport (DfT) published its Decarbonising transport: a better, greener Britain plan that sets out the government’s commitments and the actions needed to decarbonise the entire transport system in the UK, delivering net zero by 2050 and creating a cleaner, healthier future. This was followed earlier in 2021 with the publication of Highway England’s 2030, 2040, 2050 roadmap to net zero, breaking it into three areas of focus: Corporate Emissions, Maintenance and Construction Emissions and Road User Emissions.

So how, exactly, is Amey spearheading change - laying the foundations to ensure that sustainability, in the widest possible sense, remains at its core?

Earlier this year we launched our Roadmap to Net Zero which commits to reducing carbon emissions, reaching carbon net zero by 2040.

The two ambitious targets outlined in the plan include:

  • Achieve Scope 1 and 2 Net Zero by 2035 with a minimum of 80% absolute reduction on a 2019 baseline
  • Be fully net zero including Scope 3 by 2040

To achieve these science-based targets, we’ll be following four principles: reduce, transition, innovate and engage.

As a leading infrastructure services and engineering company that delivers vital services across the built environment and transport infrastructure, we recognise the importance of reducing our impact and supporting clients to achieve their carbon and climate change ambitions. We’re not starting our journey from a blank piece of paper. Work across our Transport Infrastructure business is already well underway to tackle carbon challenges.

Greener, leaner fleets in partnership with local councils

The efficacy of governments around the world, which are often voted in for four and five-year terms, is often a source of debate. After all, how can a government realise its true vision, particularly one set to span three decades, as is the case with the journey to net zero, if it only has a relatively short timeframe in which to implement it?

This is our differentiator. Many of our contracts with local councils run for over two decades, a period of time in which we can implement real change and where long-term visions can be realised. Our 25-year Streets Ahead partnership with Sheffield City Council illustrates this.

Using a PAS 2050 carbon forecast model - the British standard widely used by businesses to calculate the carbon footprint of their goods and services – we established that a key source of carbon emissions was linked to the project’s supply chain, which included Amey’s vehicle fleet. Working in collaboration with the council, we began trialling hydrogen and electric vehicles across our light commercial fleet, the result of which has already saved 1,791 litres of diesel and reduced CO2 emissions by over three tonnes. Over the vehicles’ lease period, we expect this figure to increase to 5,625 litres and 14.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

These trials can also be seen taking place across our Area 7 and Area 10 Highways England contracts.

Carbon reduction of this scale does not end at Amey’s electric and low carbon vehicles; our impact is also being felt across many areas of the business. Our commitment to biodiversity has seen us work closely with Highways England through our Area 10 contact to establish a collaborative tree planting initiative. As part of The Living Highways Project, and through our work with Sheffield City Council, we’re looking to establish if biodiversity and ecosystem services can be enhanced on road verges, all whilst reducing maintenance costs.

A light bulb moment

Another example where our positive impact is being felt is the more nuanced area of highways maintenance: street lighting.

To date we have installed over 200,000 LEDs in streetlights within 14 local authorities, which is not only cutting each council’s carbon, but also their cost. In August last year, Amey won the contract to upgrade City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council’s 56,500 street lighting assets, which will see 48,300 existing streetlights replaced with LEDs – a move that is expected to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 65 per cent.

As with any major shift, particularly one that requires the adoption of new technology, there is a cost. Therefore, making sustainability as accessible as possible on the journey towards net zero is essential – particularly for local councils who are already expected to achieve more with less. We need to be brave to implement these ‘spend to save’ initiatives that will have a positive environmental impact.

The road towards a greener economy

In 2020, in collaboration with the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), we launched a Green Finance Toolkit to help local authorities with green finance.

The move supports the government’s Green Finance Strategy, which seeks to ensure that government and the public sector work together to fund green projects and align private sector investment with clean, sustainable and resilient growth.

Recycling materials

Whenever highways teams go out to make a road repair or fill a pothole, there will always be some waste materials to remove as part of the process. Working with our Staffordshire client we’ve been recycling road materials with a special focus. The area doesn’t have any quarries for natural materials and the quantities required for highways maintenance are so large that transportation costs would make it very costly to buy from other regions.

So, we’ve been recycling wherever possible. We collect the old material and stockpile it in four depots across Staffordshire. When we have an economic batch quantity of waste, a mobile crushing and screening plant is used to process the material into aggregate. There are of course costs attached to crushing and screening, however these are more than offset by the savings.  

Because we always have a ready supply of aggregate materials, we are very self-sufficient and not dependent on the availability of products. We’re not quarrying new stone therefore cutting transportation impact in our process, creating significant carbon savings and reducing pressures on the environment.

It’s not just about recycling materials either. When we successfully mobilised our Highways England Area 12 contract recently, we went fully paperless – a first for Amey. Having digital solutions in place we reduced the need for paper trails on the contract, not only making small environmental changes but changing the way we work using data and reporting tools more efficiently.

Place based data solutions

One of the biggest impacts I believe will come from procuring our materials and looking at place-based data led solutions; creating a holistic approach that brings together decarbonisation and social value to reach net carbon zero.

Procuring local materials, providing local employment opportunities, and creating bespoke transport plans through mobility or accessibility hubs that can provide communities with green transport options will all reduce the associated carbon emissions. But this is a shared responsibility, one that requires collaboration from not just within our sector but across all organisations – it’s a new approach that cannot be achieved in isolation.

The road ahead

Recycling materials, using data led solutions and looking to green fuel are just some of the steps we’re taking to reduce our environmental impact.

To meet the 1.5 degree Celsius global warming target reduction, as set out in the Paris Agreement, and through our net zero road map commitments, I’m confident that by collaborating with our clients, supply chain network and local communities, we’re on course to achieve this target and play a significant role in accelerating the decarbonisation of the economy and shaping sustainable communities as part of our journey.