What is PAS 2080? Insights from chartered environmentalists, for everyone

8th September 2023


What is PAS 2080 (aka PAS 2080:2023), and why is it so important for the environment, environmental professionals and businesses as a whole? Conor McCone CEnv, carbon manager at Skanska UK, Lara Young CEnv, global head of ESG at Cromwell Property Group, and Chris Landsburgh CEnv, technical director for decarbonisation at AECOM, explain.

As environmentalists, we pride ourselves on acting according to best practices and principles for mitigating environmental harm and enhancing the environment. As we confront the pressing challenges of climate change, effective and efficient carbon reduction strategies have become more crucial than ever.

The recently updated PAS 2080:2023 standard has emerged as a pivotal framework for environmental professionals and beyond. The revised standard provides a robust management platform for addressing the challenges of climate change and promoting sustainable practices in the built environment (buildings and infrastructure). Its significance in guiding our efforts towards a low-carbon future cannot be overstated. By implementing the standard, we demonstrate our commitment to mitigating environmental harm and enhancing the well-being of our planet.

For environmental professionals, PAS 2080 holds immense importance as it offers a practical and comprehensive approach that spans the entire life cycle of projects. From inception to decommissioning, this framework guides us in adopting sustainable practices at every stage. It emphasises the importance of early adoption and ensuring that carbon reduction is delivered and challenged.

By recognising the interconnectedness of various project phases, PAS 2080 challenges us to collaborate and maximise carbon reduction opportunities thus achieving sustainable solutions.

The revised standard also acknowledges the importance of a systems approach when setting out carbon management requirements. This means we should not only consider the asset and its life cycle but also how assets interact with wider networks and systems. It sets a new industry standard, inspiring us to think holistically, integrate sustainability seamlessly into our work, and empower everyone in the value chain to play a part in decarbonisation.

Relationships between value chain members across assets, networks and systems (Source: PAS 2080)

As you embark on the PAS 2080 journey, several vital considerations deserve your attention.

1) We must emphasise whole-life carbon management, understanding that our actions during construction are just the beginning. PAS 2080 prompts us to extend our focus to include considerations for operation, use, and end-of-life scenarios, enabling us to create lasting positive change in the built environment.

2) Accurate measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon emissions are essential. PAS 2080 provides clear guidelines in this regard, ensuring that our assessments are reliable and informed. By utilising standardised methods, we can track progress, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions that drive meaningful carbon reduction. Furthermore, collaboration and knowledge sharing are crucial elements of successful PAS 2080 implementation. As environmental professionals, we must actively engage with stakeholders, fostering a culture of learning and innovation. By sharing experiences, insights, and best practices, we can collectively navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by this groundbreaking framework.

3) We need to explore and embrace innovative solutions that align with PAS 2080 principles. This may involve considering procurement's piece in the puzzle, exploring alternative designs, incorporating low-carbon materials, integrating renewable energy sources, promoting circular economy principles, and exploring other cutting-edge approaches or potentially not build anything at all.

PAS 2080 encourages us to think beyond traditional practices. It inspires us to pioneer sustainable solutions, think outside the box, and shape the future of the built environment.

Why is PAS 2080 important for environmental professionals?

While PAS 2080 is not new (first launched in 2016), the industry has yet to fully embrace and implement the standard. We are still greatly lagging behind achieving the carbon reductions required at the pace and scale needed, and that’s before considering the elevated requirements of the revised standard. All is not doomed, however, we cannot shy away from the fact that everyone needs to play their part to ensure we do make the necessary progress.

The standard is applicable to all. However, those with environmental expertise will be looked at to provide the guidance in how to approach this within each organisation.

The updated PAS 2080:2023 standard provides a clear roadmap for environmental professionals to guide organisations towards sustainable practices throughout project lifecycles. This is by embracing collaboration across the value chain and ensuring a lifecycle approach is at the heart of decision making (see image below).

With this powerful tool, we can identify innovative solutions, reduce embodied carbon, and enhance operational efficiency. By leveraging this powerful standard, we contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come. PAS 2080 is a valuable asset in our mission to make meaningful action to mitigate the climate and biodiversity emergency.

Value chain members in the built environment and their roles in carbon management

Carbon reduction is increasingly becoming a contractual obligation from clients including financial damages or incentives. As environmental professionals, our expertise will be increasingly relied on to drive and coordinate action within their teams that has a material effect on the bottom line of projects. Poor carbon management and failure to effectively capture change will lead directly to financial losses. PAS 2080 gives a framework for value chain members to understand their responsibility including how and when to act.

PAS 2080 and your career

As stated above, environmental professionals are vital for the success of PAS 2080 from project planning and implementation through to decommissioning. As a global standard, a comprehensive understanding will help futureproof your career and demonstrate your expertise and employability simultaneously. As adoption continues to build pace, demand for PAS 2080 competence will only grow.

Things to start considering for PAS 2080

Imperfection

Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. A common frustration / challenge with PAS 2080 (also true for any approach to carbon accounting) is the availability, granularity and quality of data. While this is a challenge many are grappling with, and an evolving challenge, this should not stifle an individual or organisation to be able to take tangible action today.

Less is more

There is a need to prioritise to ensure the most relevant hotspots in the baseline are truly addressed. A common observation is that despite this being clear in the PAS and generally a commonly accepted approach, we are still seeing many taking on more than is practically possible to change in one go. For example, where relevant, a qualitative approach can be taken over quantitative, especially at an early stage.

Roles and responsibilities

PAS 2080 is an ongoing process that progresses with the project’s lifecycle. However, the people involved at each stage will vary and many don’t see a project from start to finish. There is therefore a continual need to restate roles and responsibilities to ensure continuity in the roll out.

The standard’s emphasis on collaboration throughout the value chain makes it truly remarkable. Each person and touch point throughout the chain has a key role to play in the success of the project. They do not need to be carbon experts, but their responsibilities will need to be made clear.

Lead the way

Together, we can, and need, to make a significant impact in advancing sustainability practices.

As environmental professionals we need to ensure we proactively engage others to deliver tangible carbon reductions and be the leaders in its implementation. What makes PAS 2080 truly remarkable is its emphasis on collaboration throughout the value chain, irrespective of their level of familiarity with the standard.

So, if you haven’t already engaged your colleagues, clients, and value chain, you need to start now. Together, we can, and need, to make a significant impact in advancing sustainability practices.

Seek support

If you find yourself facing challenges, don't hesitate to seek assistance from others. The Society for the Environment, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), and Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) have a wealth of professionals who are eager to offer insights on how to effectively implement this standard. Reach out to them for guidance and support in harnessing the true potential of PAS 2080. We see it as our collective role to proactively engage with others to drive this vital standard forwards.

Organisational vs project compliance

There are two major elements to consider when aiming for PAS 2080 compliance at a project or organisational level:

1) Organisational or internal compliance: Organisation-wide buy-in. Organisations need to start to consider how they integrate carbon management into everyone’s 'day job'. This requires buy-in and support from the business leaders to project teams, the designers to the commercial teams. Environmental professionals need to engage multiple disciplines in multiple ways to secure buy-in.

Developing internal processes that ensure carbon is integrated into your project across these disciplines is a key step in delivering a project in line with PAS 2080. This consistent and robust internal approach ensures the right people are engaging at the right time, maximising the potential for carbon reductions across the project lifetime.

2) Project or asset compliance: Value chain engagement

PAS 2080 in this context requires multiple disciplines from each value chain member to contribute to carbon reduction. The standard provides the framework for how and when each party should engage to maximise reductions. Understanding your organisation’s PAS 2080 responsibilities across the project lifecycle and upskilling your delivery teams on how to engage the value chain partners will maximise opportunities for collaboration, innovation and ultimately carbon reduction.

Existing management systems

Integrating carbon across an organisation may sound like a daunting task, however, the good news is that carbon can be integrated into existing management systems and processes and still be in line with PAS 2080. Not only will this eliminate the need for another new process, but it increases the chances of success by using what already exists to make carbon reduction as pragmatic and practical as possible.

Another reason to celebrate is that a lot of the structure required to deliver PAS 2080 is already in place across project delivery, we just need to weave carbon into the process and agenda.

Consistency

A huge opportunity to reduce carbon presents itself once this process has been formalised and organisations approach project carbon reduction consistently. This enables comparison between projects to understand why one project outperformed another in the same sector. The robust framework at a sector or business level allows for rapid continual improvement and lessons learned to be leveraged between projects. Also, by taking the approach of integrating carbon into existing systems, it allows other important areas to be integrated in a similar way, such as social value, biodiversity and climate resilience.

The additional benefits

Delivering PAS 2080 at a project or organisational level is an opportunity for environmental professionals to engage multiple disciplines, both internally and externally. Successful implementation not only helps our projects to reduce carbon but also delivers better financial performance for us, our customers and our stakeholders.

PAS 2080 is an opportunity for environmental professionals to raise the profile of our profession and demonstrate that sustainability is good for business.

More from the authors:

Chris Landsburgh CEnv via AECOM: All you need to know about the revised PAS 2080 standard on carbon management

Conor McCone CEnv on the ICE Tech Talks podcast: The transport sector’s journey to net zero

Lara Young CEnv on SocEnv’s podcast: EnvCast

More useful links:

The PAS 2080 Standard in full via BSI: 2023 revised PAS 2080 Standard

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE): PAS 2080:2023 guidance document

The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE): The hierarchy of net zero design

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