ICE Infrastructure Carbon Review Lecture 2014, UKGBC Embodied Carbon Week 2014

By Victor Zasadski, CIRIA Project Manager

As part of the UKGBC Embodied Carbon Week (#ebc2014), members of the CIRIA team were fortunate enough to attend the ICE Infrastructure Carbon Review Lecture 2014. The event was an overwhelming success, chaired by Lynne Ceeney, Director of Sustainability at Parsons Brinkerhoff, Mott MacDonald’s Mark Enzer and Tim Chapman of Arup.

As part of the event, the audience were introduced to the Infrastructure Carbon Review, produced by HM Treasury, before being talked through how innovation within examples in water and transportation sectors can lead to savings in both carbon and costs. Delegates were talked through baselining carbon within projects, programmes and portfolios and how doing so can lead to both cost and carbon savings. In counting carbon within projects, be it in the capital expenditure in the creation of infrastructure (CAPCARB), in the Operation of infrastructure (OPCARB) or in its use (USECARB), efficiencies can begin to be made as improvements can be sought through review and continuous improvement.   

The lecture focused on two different yet highly interesting areas:
  • In water, Mark Enzer explained how renovation of existing assets in a water treatment works significantly reduced the embodied carbon within a site development and led to significant savings in both building and operational costs, adding genuine in value for many stakeholders, including quicker procurement times.
  • In infrastructure Tim Chapman used the example of transportation and how in delivering a new piece of infrastructure such as HS2 would enable passengers to travel on HS2 lines, opening up capacity in the rail network for freight. Electrifying the existing network, bringing road freight to rail, and removing the need for lorries emitting carbon to be congesting road networks had the potential for huge savings in the long term.

With carbon increasingly being seen as the currency of sustainability, counting the embodied carbon within projects, and considering this within larger programme of infrastructure over time and seeing infrastructure as collection of interconnecting nodes it is possible to make more tangible and quantifiable assessments of the impacts of infrastructure in terms of environmental, economic and environmental sustainability.

If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from the event, or indeed by embodied carbon week, it is that UK plc is a place for innovation and leadership in Carbon. If actively managing carbon in projects is seen holistically, it is not something which will increase costs, far from it, it will more often lead to a reduction in costs across project programmes or portfolios. As a result, we should not shy away from the potential benefits of innovation and consider the opportunity cost of a ‘do nothing approach’. Furthermore, leadership should be at all levels, from the boardroom to those just entering the industry, and industry should do its upmost to capture innovation and encourage leadership, in whatever form it takes.