Incremental targets for carbon reduction will help the highways sector, says CIHT round table debate

Setting incremental targets for carbon reduction would help the highways sector to accelerate towards achieving net zero emissions from its operations by 2050,.

These were the thoughts of participants at a recent CIHT online round table. They also agree that the industry must become more transparent in how it measures its climate change impacts,.

One industry example that was talked about-also a winner of this year’s CIHT / Ringway Climate Change Award. A trial of an innovative thin surface course containing 50% reclaimed and recycled asphalt – which was laid by Connect Plus Services on the M25 in Essex last year – received the award.

Those involved in the project gathered to discuss the success and wider priorities for reducing the highway sector’s impact on climate change in the roundtable.

Asked whether setting short term targets would help the industry on its road to more long term, net zero ambitions, Connect Plus Services professional head of linear assets Quintin Viljoen agreed. “If we take small incremental steps – little but often – I am convinced that we will start to make some significant positive change which will help us hit those big targets. All of this can not be done in isolation and real innovation can only be unlocked through finding synergy with all parties involved,” he added.

Award sponsor Ringway’s sustainability lead Maggie Hall agreed that targets can help to ensure that all parties in the value chain are working towards a common goal. “If communicated effectively and everyone has a common understanding of what they mean they can be very helpful,” she said.

However the company’s chief executive Scott Wardrop highlighted a “gap in understanding” within the sector as to what constitutes ‘net zero’. He went on to suggest that while many organisations have been recording their direct ‘Scope 1 and 2’ emissions, much more work is required to achieve a common understanding around indirect ‘Scope 3’ emissions – for example carbon embodied in materials and processes throughout the wider supply chain.

“To force yourself to change and challenge yourself, you really need to have a detailed knowledge of where you are and then develop a plan to make the significant changes required; it is a huge challenge but one we must all face,” he said.

Skanska framework manager David O’Sullivan agreed with the need for targets and more transparency in carbon measurements. “The industry can’t just measure what comes out the exhaust of our vehicles and concentrate on developing an electric fleet, while at the same time shipping train loads of virgin aggregate and bitumen,” he said.  “Embodied carbon is far greater than the carbon from fuel use in our industry.”

The contractor’s framework director Sean Murphy also highlighted the importance of data in managing carbon impacts across supply chains. “We are all learning together but without the right data and being able to really analyse where the biggest impacts are, including at supply chain level, we would not be able to target the areas of most benefit,” he said.

Highways England’s head of energy agreed that setting targets can be “brilliant, if intelligently set, but warned: “It has got to be a target that drives the industry to improve but at the same time maintains efficiency and cost control. I don’t think we currently have the knowledge to do that.”

He explained that the strategic road network operator will establish a key performance indicator for carbon management of its own activities during the first year of the new road spending period, which will involve the setting of targets.

Highways England senior adviser in sustainable development and climate change Colin Holm highlighted the Government’s publication of Carbon Budgets, which aim to set a pathway to net zero, and emphasised: “There is a real opportunity to drive efficiency and cost saving through good carbon management as well, which is an incentive in itself.”

FM Conway head of technical services Mark Flint described legislation as the biggest problem holding back advances in carbon reduction by the sector, noting in particular that specifications for road surfaces “lag behind what the technology can provide”.

Responding to the award win, Connect Plus technical and programme director Elaine Gazzini said: “This project is a fantastic example of how our community approach challenges traditional industry barriers and enables innovation to bring long term benefits to the M25 network. The award is testament to our collective commitment to the environment and to reducing our carbon footprint.”


She added: “Maximising the reuse of resources already available results in a substantial reduction in demand for primary resources such as high quality primary aggregates and bitumen, providing significant economic and environmental benefits.”

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