The government’s review of carbon emission form infrastructure should point the way for the rest of the industry

Isabel McAllister

It’s not often you get the government and industry leaders singing from the same (recycled, of course) page when it comes to carbon reduction. That’s why the Infrastructure Carbon Review – published on 25th November – is something to really celebrate. The end goal is to save 24 million tonnes of carbon emissions in the infrastructure sector by 2050. Even the Treasury is on board with projected savings for the construction industry estimated at £1.46bn.

The initiative has, in the words of construction and energy minister Michael Fallon, “thrown down the gauntlet to the construction sector”. It aims to shake up infrastructure in a way that can only be beneficial to the industry – by using new technologies, construction techniques and low carbon materials. As the minister’s words imply, the infrastructure sustainability solution lies in the hands of the construction business. Over half of UK carbon emissions are created by construction and similar industries like energy and water.

During the very same week we were celebrating the Infrastructure Carbon Review, the government made the hotly debated decision to turn off energy efficiency funding programmes. One step forwards two steps back? Again.

The review has been well received. Many UK big player infrastructure clients including water, energy and transport providers have pledged their commitment to the plan. What gives me hope that the review’s aims will be delivered is that it contains input from over 100 industry stakeholders and a survey of a further 300 organisations. The industry’s needs and concerns have been listened to which is essential for a functional change – instead of merely focussing on the end result and hoping for the best.

However, during the very same week we were celebrating the Infrastructure Carbon Review, the government made the hotly debated decision to turn off energy efficiency funding programmes – including halving the work undertaken by the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO).. One step forwards two steps back? Again.

For those who still think that being green is all cost and compromise, the review points out that working positively with designers and suppliers during the initial stages can have real economic and environmental benefits throughout the lifespan of a project and even after construction ends.

A key example of this is the velodrome in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. With only one thousand tonnes of steel making up its roof, foundations are light and more efficient ensuring that less natural resources are used. By using natural light as much as possible the building’s energy consumption has been cut down and rainwater is being recycled to flush the building’s toilets. These innovations not only bring short term savings but will increase the venue’s longevity as a sustainable building.

What we’ve learnt will be implemented in the future with the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme and Lower Thames Crossing projects. At a cost of £1.5bn, the A14 programme represents over 10% of the country’s total expenditure on road infrastructure.

Creating opportunities for greener infrastructure can be done at any point in the delivery process but there are greater opportunities to be had the earlier you start. Our infrastructure shapes and informs how we live, work and travel. Delivering our future infrastructure will be intensive in terms of carbon and cost, so it’s important that we get the investment right. The Infrastructure Carbon Review sets out what can be done with some clarity of message, boldness and industry engagement. So let’s get on with it.

Isabel McAllister is director of sustainability at Mace