Skanska's deep-green future

13th October 2011


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IEMA

Skanska wants its construction projects to have a near-zero environmental impact. the environmentalist finds out how

In 2008, Johan Karlström, incoming president and CEO of Skanska, committed the company to becoming the leading “green” project developer and contractor in the world. Two years later, the Swedish construction giant’s UK arm was named the country’s best green company by the Sunday Times.

Skanska’s sustainability journey did not begin recently, however: the company has a long tradition of greening its construction projects. But in recent years, and particularly since Karlström’s appointment, the firm’s commitment to carrying out environmentally friendly construction projects has intensified. It also means that there is strong leadership from the top and a clear vision for placing sustainability at the heart of Skanska’s business model.

This is just as well, because implementing a consistent environmental strategy, with supporting processes and tools, on a day-to-day basis across a number of different businesses and countries, while employing 52,000 people, is not an easy undertaking.

“Built environments are responsible for about 40% of all energy use and man-made CO2 emissions so there is huge scope for reducing the construction industry’s impact on the environment,” says Greg Chant-Hall, sustainability manager for Skanska Infrastructure Development in the UK.

“But it means taking a long-term view and future-proofing buildings so that they are sustainable for many decades to come, and not just during the construction phase.”

The colour palette

Skanska’s vision for its environmental strategy is depicted as a coloured roadmap showing its intended journey to a more sustainable future. The destination is “deep green” – deep-green buildings and deep-green infrastructure.

The definition of “deep green” is simple: zero impact on the environment, or as close to it as is economically possible. This means, says Chant-Hall, zero net energy consumption; zero CO2 emissions; zero hazardous materials; zero use of non-sustainable materials; and zero potable water for non-potable use.

The intensification of Skanska’s expected environmental performance on its projects is captured in its “colour palette”:

  • Vanilla = compliance: The construction process and/or product performance is in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, codes and standards.
  • Green = beyond compliance: The construction process and/or product performance is beyond compliance, but not yet at a point where it can be considered to have near-zero impact.
  • Deep green = future-proof: The construction process and Skanska’s product performance has a near-zero impact on the environment, thereby future-proofing projects.

“The colour palette describes a project-by-project tool – we want to push every one of our projects as far towards the deep green region as possible,” says Chant-Hall.

Some factors, such as engaged and demanding clients, can speed up the process and Skanska encourages clients to identify with its colour palette as early as possible. He explains that the opportunities to innovate and design sustainable solutions become much more limited as a construction project progresses, and so it is vital to engage with investors, clients, architects, system designers and suppliers long before the actual design process starts. The involvement of stakeholders early on in the process will also help to make the entire chain – from raw materials to completed construction and operation – more environmentally sound.

The tools for the job

Carbon footprinting services form fundamental components of Skanska’s strategy for achieving its deep-green vision, and the company has developed a range of tools and techniques to calculate the carbon footprint of its building projects.

Chant-Hall explains that a carbon footprint can be categorised as embodied carbon from the products and construction process, and operational carbon from the use and maintenance of the asset. The former is the total carbon emissions related to construction materials and construction activities, while the latter describes the emissions associated with heating and electrical consumption during their operational lifespan. A building’s carbon footprint is typically made up of about 25% embodied carbon and 70% operational carbon, with the construction process itself accounting for around 5% – so it’s easy to grasp where the greatest scope for carbon efficiency lies.

Clients themselves have increasingly been demanding carbon footprinting services, and Skanska views its building life-cycle approach to calculating and optimising carbon emissions as an opportunity. “We see the colour palette and our drive to build sustainable buildings and infrastructure as a lever to win new business as the result can be cost- as well as energy-efficient,” says Chant-Hall.

The tools in its “green toolbox” have the ability to project the environmental and efficiency savings achievable over the course of a building’s lifespan. “If the initial expenditure on some more sustainable items is costly, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the operational return on investment through using the sophisticated tools we have developed,” Chant-Hall explains.

Skanska has a global life-cycle team and one of the in-house tools it has developed is a “life-cycle cost optioneering” (LCCO) model that assesses alternative design options against project-specific criteria, which are weighted depending on their importance to the project. Chant-Hall says that LCCO supports green construction because, often, green options cost less over the long term as they use less energy.

Linked to LCCO is Skanska’s “lifecycle carbon and water design analysis” tool, which is used across all its projects, including at the bid stage. Again, the tool provides data on the life-cycle carbon of the construction project to the end of the building’s concession – meaning for as long as the client is responsible for that building, typically 30-plus years.

The tool enables the project team to produce life-cycle data at the most detailed level. For example, for one door on one project Skanska has analysed 724 different elements in order to calculate the embodied and operational carbon contained in that door for its lifespan. Now that the tool has been in operation for some time, it can pre-populate much of the data for other projects, so it is not quite as laborious a process as it first was.

Working with stakeholders

Skanska views engaging stakeholders in its vision as critical to achieving its goals. Client demand for green building solutions is actively encouraged. Skanska regularly runs sustainability masterclasses where senior managers invite key clients to come and discuss the business imperatives around sustainability and exchange ideas for implementing them.

Encouraging Skanska’s complex supply chain to identify with its environmental agenda is also a priority. Its procurement policy demands a high level of compliance with environmental standards as a matter of course, but Skanska also reaches out to suppliers in much the same way as it does to clients. It operates a “supply chain school”, a series of sustainability sessions for suppliers.

The company has also launched a green-solution award scheme for its UK suppliers. In addition, suppliers are invited to attend Skanska’s annual “environment week”, which is arranged to coincide with world environment day in June.

“All staff are invited and there is a discussion with individual suppliers about environmental issues, and the reasons for choosing those particular suppliers,” Chant-Hall says. “This helps promote the supply chain to staff and increase their awareness of where our services and products come from, and their impact on the environment.”

Environment week is just one part of Skanska’s approach to educating and engaging employees on its green goals. Another is sending every employee on a half-day session of IEMA-approved environment training at least once each year.

Continuous improvement

Skanska’s vision is ambitious and not without its challenges. Continuous improvement and keeping abreast of innovations in the field are seen as vital to achieving its sustainability goals, and the company regularly collaborates with leading academic experts to develop its environmental learning curve.

Sharing knowledge within the company and across the different countries in which Skanska operates is also vital. But, says Chant-Hall, the key to achieving Skanska’s deep-green strategy is to demonstrate the long-term value of sustainability to clients. To this end, the company is working on several financial models to help clients realise a greener built environment.


Case study: One and two Kingdom StreetOne Kingdom Street

Skanska UK worked with a consultant to calculate the total carbon footprint of two Kingdom Street projects, constructed as part of the Paddington Central development in London. The 12- and 13-storey office buildings were completed in 2008, with One Kingdom Street being the first Skanska UK building project to implement a sustainability plan as well as an environment management plan – meaning that the project strove to ensure a positive contribution in terms of social, economic and environmental issues.

It has since set the sustainability benchmark for all other Skanska UK building projects. One Kingdom Street exceeded client demands for a BREEAM environmental assessment by achieving an “excellent” rating.

The pioneering carbon footprinting study included the modelling of six alternative carbon reduction scenarios covering both embodied and operational carbon. For example, Two Kingdom Street was calculated to have a total carbon footprint of 92,230 tCO2e or 2.6 tCO2e/m2 over a 60-year operational period, with operational carbon responsible for 61% of the carbon footprint and embodied carbon 39%.

The total construction footprint for One Kingdom Street was 24,815 tCO2e, with the steel frame and concrete works responsible for 35% and 18% of the footprint, respectively. The operational carbon count for both buildings would have been higher if it were not for their energy-efficient nature, as would the embodied carbon have been were it not for the sustainability plans that were put in place.

At One Kingdom Street these include a geothermal heating system built into the concrete piles that were cast into the ground to support the structure. This system produces 210kW of heating and 85kW of cooling for communal areas, such as the reception, atrium and stairwell.

There was also a campaign on site during construction to minimise electricity consumption, including energy-use posters and daily email reminders to turn off computers and appliances. The waste management plan, meanwhile, resulted in the recycling of about 97% of site waste.

In addition, a detailed travel plan helped to reduce the impact of employee transport, site deliveries and waste collection during construction – this included no on-site parking and the publication of public transport routes, timetables and travel information on posters and noticeboards, and the offer of interest-free season ticket loans for staff. Trade contractors were encouraged to ensure deliveries were managed efficiently by organising full-load or joint deliveries with other contractors.

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