Delivering low carbon infrastructure

Mark Edwards, Sustainability Advisor, UK Green Building Council

On Wednesday 30 November practitioners from across the infrastructure value chain gathered at the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) to discuss approaches to delivering low carbon infrastructure. Throughout the afternoon’s discussions, three key themes came up repeatedly: leadership, risk and collaboration.

Within organisations, the need for a senior leader to champion the cause is vital to fully reap the benefits of the opportunities that low carbon infrastructure presents. The business case in the sector has been made and supported by HM Treasury: reducing carbon means reducing cost. Projects and organisations need leaders who are prepared to seize these opportunities and enable meaningful change: leaders that will actually take action by disrupting either the business-as-usual mentality or the softly-softly incremental change approach.

We also need leadership from the bottom up: a culture where practitioners, project managers, construction managers etc. are empowered to take action. This is where the role of the sustainability practitioner is crucial in talking the language of these professionals in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Establishing a culture where this is possible is incredibly difficult without meaningful top-level leadership.

The primary purpose of infrastructure is to provide a service for society. In that context, it is no surprise that the infrastructure industry is traditionally highly risk-averse. Any definition of innovation includes doing something “new”. However, if everyone is waiting for “proven innovation” before doing something new, how will anything ever change?

It is the final theme of collaboration which may help address this. The client will always be key in issuing the initial request and defining the brief. But, it is the interaction that follows which defines the success of the project. Clients need to collaborate with their suppliers and respond constructively to suggested improvements. Within the value chain the opportunities to explore alternatives that could unlock better outcomes need to be seized through interaction between designers, contractors, suppliers and the client. Perhaps this is where PAS 2080 can play a crucial role, in setting out the responsibilities for all value chain members. Collaboration across industry sectors is also important. It may be that what’s new in one sector is embedded in another, so by collaboration across sectors it may be easier to innovate. This is where cross-sector bodies, like CIRIA and The UK Green Building Council, can play an important role.

In essence, it is clear that the issues identified around leadership, risk and collaboration should be addressed together as they are largely interdependent. Professionals at all levels can help by recognising the need for wide-ranging systemic transformation, and being open-minded towards ideas that may offer breakthrough change.

Join CIRIA for our, Designing and delivering low carbon infrastructure webinar this January 31st. This webinar will explore some of the drivers and approaches to low carbon infrastructure design and delivery, and provide insight into how industry leaders are implementing low carbon solutions in their own organisations.