Greener infrastructure could save UK billions

26th November 2013

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Building more resource-efficient transport, energy and water networks will save £1.46 billion in costs and 24 million tonnes of CO2 each year, says the Treasury

In a review of how the infrastructure sector can cut carbon emissions in support of the UK’s climate change targets, the Treasury and the business department (BIS) calculates that by 2050 the sector could be saving £1.46 billion each year through improved resource use.

The joint industry-government report concludes that the infrastructure sector, which accounts for more than half of the UK’s carbon emissions, needs to maximise the use of existing assets, ensure new assets are designed to use low-carbon materials and embrace new, more efficient construction technologies, to make the savings.

“Reducing carbon reduces costs,” said Lord Deighton, commercial secretary to the Treasury, in his forward to the review. “It is part and parcel of saving materials, reducing energy demand and delivering operational efficiencies.”

The review cites a project by Anglian Water to build a 60km pipeline which was able to reduce the size of pipeline required by optimising existing assets and ensured more resource efficient construction practicies by engaging early-on with its contractors. These measures resulted in 39% reduction in construction-related emissions and a 34% cut in operational carbon compared with a 2009 baseline. The firm also saved, £13 million in costs.

Business minister Michael Fallon said: “This review makes the business case for carbon reduction in what we build. It has been written by business leaders not civil servants and throws down the gauntlet to the construction sector to get behind what could be a game changing initiative.

“Real change won’t happen by acting alone, but through government and the construction industry working together in line with our industrial strategy.”

Senior management buy-in and embedding sustainability into the culture of an organisation are crucial to making the switch to low-carbon infrastructure projects, advises the report.

“Make carbon reduction part of your organisation’s DNA,” the review recommends. “Articulate carbon reduction as a core organisational value; change behaviours, share best practice and develop carbon skills.”

Firms should also measure and publically report their carbon footprints, set emissions reductions targets and embed carbon reduction into procurement process, states the report.

Treasury’s recommendations were welcomed by IEMA’s executive director of policy Martin Baxter. “There is a huge opportunity to embed carbon reduction across the whole infrastructure sector, as well as significant economic and business benefits,” he said.

Baxter added that environment and sustainability professionals will be crucial in realising carbon- and cost-saving opportunities. “The Treasury’s report rightly recognises that investment in low-carbon skills are critical to enabling the benefits to be realised,” he said.

At the launch of the government’s review, bodies from the UK’s infrastructure sector, including the Highways Agency, Heathrow Airport and the National Grid, alongside contractors such as Skanska, Balfour Beatty and Mott Macdonald, agreed to work together to implement its recommendations.

Following the event, consultancy Mott MacDonald, pledged that from next year it would use carbon footprinting and reduction targets as “key assessment criteria” for suppliers.

“Carbon is a business-critical issue; [it] is a proxy measurement of resource efficiency,” commented Keith Howells, chairman of Mott MacDonald Group. “By cutting carbon, the infrastructure sector could generate significant savings, contributing a substantial financial benefit to the UK economy.”

The review's examination of the infrastructure sector follows a separate government report looking at the future of the UK's manufacturing sector, which concluded that businesses had to adopt a circular economy approach to resources to remain competitive in 2050.

IEMA guidance

In 2014, IEMA plans to launch new guidance for sustainability professionals to ensure that environmental impact assessment is best-placed to influence the pre-application stage of infrastructure proposals, leading to better-informed design and decision-making.

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