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Tackling the Infrastructure Carbon Challenge through Integrated Design and Innovation

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Triskelion, SCAPE Scotland’s Infrastructure design consultants, is committed to the net-zero target as set by the Scottish Government. Combining Arcadis, Fairhurst and Sweco, they have the leadership, expertise and capability to help tackle systematic challenges within the industry.

Kirsten Leggatt, Carbon & Sustainability Consultant at Sweco and Ben Harris, UK Climate Change & Sustainability Director at Arcadis, discuss the necessity to integrate design and innovation to reach net zero.

Whole life carbon - carbon cost tipping point

There is a strong relationship between carbon and cost. The greatest potential to reduce carbon exists at the earliest stage of the design process, where positive design decisions can have the greatest impact. The Infrastructure Carbon Review and PAS 2080 Carbon Management in Infrastructure both communicate this message – we can reduce carbon in a manner that also reduces cost.

However, tipping points exist, beyond which it costs more to reduce carbon. Carbon cost tipping points need to be identified and assessed to understand the cost of reaching net-zero by 2045.

Carbon cost tipping point

Sweco's Urban Insight Report provides more detailed information about the carbon cost in infrastructure, including detail around the carbon cost tipping point.

Areas of innovation - how will innovation in road construction improve emissions?

Current design standards are often unintentionally biased towards higher carbon solutions e.g. bitumen content in pavements and cement content in concrete. Traditional construction materials such as steel and cement have a large global footprint, estimated to be 7% and 8% respectively. As the language of carbon cost becomes more prevalent there will be greater pressure to drive innovation and challenge standards that put a premium on lower-carbon options.

Materials resource efficiency understandably helps reduce carbon emissions but we need to substitute materials and apply innovation in technology and industrial processes to reach net zero.

This requires the sector to test and to learn from what works, by creating the space for innovation to happen. There is likely to be a need for new mechanisms to share the risk, to allow for investment in innovation and for all parts of the sector to work together to meet shared long-term targets. These approaches have worked to drive down the cost of renewable energy production and we need similar efforts with key materials.

We also need to increase the learning from other sectors and from innovation across the globe that can be used in tackling this challenge. This starts with a shared understanding of the challenge and a system of measurement that evolves with the changing dynamics that come with decarbonisation across our economy.

Evolution of carbon management

Practical application of PAS2080 with net zero procurement

The infrastructure sector has a major role in achieving carbon reduction targets. The message of ‘reduce carbon, reduce cost’ will only get the industry so far, we need low carbon alternatives to become more attractive, to allow organisations and projects to reach net zero.

We cannot rely on carbon reduction to occur automatically through traditional designs; we must start to consider our options beyond the carbon cost tipping point.

How can this be achieved?

  • With clear leadership, proactive carbon cost management occurs at every design decision point
  • We need to make carbon reduction a contractual requirement within procurement mechanisms to hold the industry to account; if we solely rely on forward-thinking clients and stakeholders, we will never achieve net-zero emissions
  • Carbon emissions should be reduced as far as practicable; offsetting should be an absolute last resort
  • We will not achieve national net-zero carbon targets through carbon accounting alone – considering carbon with cost enables best value reductions.

Written by:

Kirsten Leggatt & Ben Harris