A recent Construction News roundtable, sponsored by BAM, explored how clients, contractors, and investors are shaping their approaches to carbon reduction. The panel consisted of individuals such as Yetunde Abdul, head of climate action at the UK Green Building Council, Martyn Coombes, engineering manager at Southampton Airport, Stephen Elderkin, project director at National Highways, Stacey Flor, managing director and co-head of origination at Wells Fargo, Maria Jarosz, principal environment and social value manager at Network Rail, Nick Lee, development director at CEG, Julia Messenger, sustainability manager at BAM Construct, Neil Pickup, projects director at Ask Development, and Neil Wait, head of environmental sciences at HS2.
The year 2021 will be remembered for climate change taking centre stage in the political agenda due to the urgent need for drastic action. Natural disasters occurring frequently, partly attributed to climate change, reinforce the urgency. The UK hosted the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, bringing together global politicians, businesspeople, and activists to seek a global consensus. The construction industry, responsible for approximately 40% of global carbon emissions, was well represented at the conference. The industry must step up to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees.
In the aftermath of COP26 and the CN Decarbonising Construction virtual conference in July, Construction News, in partnership with BAM, organised a digital roundtable discussion. The purpose was to examine the measures taken by built environment companies to address their carbon emissions. The roundtable aimed to gauge the industry's level of progress in this regard.
Julia Messenger, sustainability manager at BAM Construct, shared her company's approach. BAM had already committed to science-based targets encompassing its own emissions, those of its clients, supply chain, and suppliers. Currently, BAM is working on a comprehensive net-zero carbon strategy set to be published this year. Messenger highlighted the importance of clarifying what net-zero means for clients, whether it encompasses operational buildings alone or extends to whole-life carbon and the materials used in constructing buildings. Influencing clients and supply chains is essential in addition to focusing on their own emissions.
Neil Pickup, projects director at Ask Development, described their three-pronged approach. Firstly, they aimed to revise their corporate policies concerning carbon reduction. Secondly, they emphasised leveraging design possibilities and offsetting to achieve carbon neutrality, especially for commercial offices. Lastly, Ask Development focused on analysing the in-use carbon profiles of their developments, integrating proactive measures into the current design phase.
Neil Wait, head of environmental sciences at HS2, stressed the importance of taking a long-term perspective, particularly for infrastructure projects that have a longer lifespan. HS2, for instance, plans for a 120-year operation period when evaluating whole-life carbon. Wait emphasised that sustainability cannot be confined to a single department; it must be driven from the top and permeate all levels of the organization. Carbon literacy training for employees across various departments is crucial for effective implementation.
Maria Jarosz, principal environment and social value manager at Network Rail, discussed their contract requirements, which include environmental and social standards with a focus on carbon and energy. Network Rail expects designers and contractors to conduct assessments, evaluate whole-life carbon, and explore renewable options. Nick Lee, development director at CEG, emphasised their efforts to minimise energy consumption in the buildings they deliver and own. They directly employ facilities management teams to have better control over energy usage. Lee also highlighted the challenge of reducing emissions from occupiers and the importance of green leases and collaboration with occupants to achieve energy consumption reduction.
Martyn Coombes, engineering manager at Southampton Airport, acknowledged the difficulty faced by organizations such as airports in reducing emissions beyond their control. Nonetheless, Southampton Airport has taken steps to reduce its own carbon footprint through initiatives like a hydrogen-driven heat and power plant and a switch to LED lighting. National Highways director of environmental sustainability, Stephen Elderkin, addressed the carbon emissions associated with surface transport, stressing the need to transition away from internal combustion engines. While the central government plays a significant role in reducing private vehicle usage and promoting electric cars, National Highways focuses on internal improvements such as tree planting, ultra-low emission vehicles, contracts for electric vehicle hire, and a program to switch road lighting to LED.
The roundtable also noted the growing pressure from financiers to adopt sustainable practices. Financial institutions now consider the carbon profile of development when deciding on loans, which marks a significant change in a short time. The challenge of addressing whole-life carbon, particularly embodied carbon in materials, was recognised by the panel. Yetunde Abdul, head of climate action at the UK Green Building Council, encouraged participants to explore the council's recently published Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment. Abdul emphasized the importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing among industry organisations to consistently consider and measure impacts.
The roundtable concluded with a shared commitment among industry participants to strive for net zero and collaborate in tackling carbon emissions. Urgency is paramount, leaving no time for delay.
Sponsored by BAM, the roundtable provided valuable insights into how the construction industry is embracing carbon reduction and striving for sustainability.