Article Sustainability

The impact of ‘Net Carbon Zero’ on the Geo-Engineering Industry

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The UK Government has committed to Net Carbon Zero by 2050 Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener – GOV.UK (  Underpinning this goal is a 10 point plan encompassing the following areas:

  • advancing offshore wind
  • driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
  • delivering new and advanced nuclear power
  • accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
  • green public transport, cycling and walking
  • ‘jet zero’ and green ships
  • greener buildings
  • investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
  • protecting our natural environment
  • green finance and innovation

Whilst this puts a focus on the energy industries, this does not mean that the construction industry and associated industries are exempted. Indeed, according to the UK Green Building Council, around 10% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction activities. The number rises to 45% when taking into account the whole of the built environment sector.

Therefore, members of the AGS and their clients have an obligation to change behaviours, practices and methodologies to meet the challenge of net carbon zero. The clock is already ticking and changes need to be made sooner rather than later if the 2050 deadline is to be achieved.

There are a number of instigators and drivers which trigger a starting point on this journey. This could be an internal commitment from senior management or funders requiring businesses to meet a standard or set commitment, such as ‘Pledge to Net Zero’ Home | Pledge to Net Zero or ‘SME Climate Commitment’ Commitment – SME Climate hub. These schemes trigger baseline carbon footprinting and structured planning towards  the 2050 (or earlier) target.  Alternatively, the trigger could be external through commercial 3rd party requirements. The whole supply chain is affected by the Government Pledge and therefore public client bodies will be requesting evidence from suppliers of they will meet the current targets. We can expect that these requirements will also be seen from private clients, especially as they develop their carbon reduction requirements beyond Scopes 1 and 2 and into Scope 3[1], which requires assessment of the supply chain.

Having established a driver and committed to reducing carbon, the next step is to measure the business’s carbon footprint and establish a comparable metric. This will vary between business types, but there is much guidance and support available from organisations such as the Carbon Trust. The process can be started small with simple assessments related to energy usage and develop complexity with time , especially as the ‘wins’ and reductions become harder to achieve.

Beyond business carbon footprints sits project carbon footprints.  PAS 2080:2016 “Carbon Management in Infrastructure ” is already 6 years old and was designed to help organisations in the construction industry move to a sustainable future by identifying areas for improvement and utilising sector best practice. The PAS2080 framework looks at the whole life cycle carbon management when delivering infrastructure assets, aiming to reduce carbon and reduce cost through more intelligent design, construction and use. There are also multiple tools to assist in assessing carbon footprints and opportunities for carbon reduction through good design and construction practice. The EFFC/DFI’s Carbon Calculator for foundations allows contractors to establish their carbon footprint on site and determine a benchmark against which reduction can be assessed and where the carbon intensity is within a project. The Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) plans to mandate that all projects over £1m in value require EFFC/DFI Carbon Calculator calculations to be submitted. For projects less than this, the FPS is considering a simple ‘rule of thumb’ calculation that can be applied to give an approximate carbon value. This process can be adapted to some site investigation driller techniques.   Similarly, structural engineers Elliott Wood have developed ‘The Structural Carbon Tool’ in conjunction with the Institution of Structural Engineers to enable assessment of embodied carbon in structures. This includes geotechnical structures such as basements, retaining walls etc.  On the contaminated land side of geo-engineering, SURF-UK has developed guidance towards Sustainable Remediation which includes a number of Environmental Indicators such as ‘Emissions to Air’ and ‘Natural Resources’ and will expand to carbon measurement. Use of such tools is increasing and we can expect it to become a normal part of ‘value engineering’ or ‘options appraisals’.

What could reduced carbon methods may look like?  Each business will have different effective solutions. A big part is having the relevant technology available commercially, which is a work in progress for plant and commercial vehicles where battery power is currently limited in scope and range. In the meantime, sustainable fleet management and driving is already established as good practice .eg FORS, which provides a measurable starting point.   Electric drilling rigs have been available for some time, but often require a commercial electricity supply which is problematical, especially whilst the electricity supply infrastructure is not in place to support demand.  Technology is continually developing and changes to support carbon reduction can be expected to become more frequent and more available.

Also think about office related improvements. Switching energy suppliers to green non-carbon based suppliers where possible, committing to zero waste to landfill/ recycling and resourcing eco-friendly supplies from re-cycled/recyclable materials will provide first steps to carbon reduction.

For businesses who believe they can carry on as always and simply off set their carbon without fundamental changes to processes, this is the equivalent of putting a plaster on a wound that needs surgery.

The drive to reduce carbon is no longer a ‘wish-list‘ item.  Being able to demonstrate how your business and designs or procedures contribute to carbon reduction is becoming both a technical and commercial requirement.  It will soon be a ’must have’ and geo-engineers need to be thinking ahead to meet the needs of both Clients and Government drivers. If everyone starts to think about what they could do to manage their carbon footprint and plan towards it and put relevant demands on their supply chain, the goals will be achieved sooner.

[1]  Scope 1: Direct emissions that result from activities within your organisation’s control. This might include on-site fuel combustion, manufacturing and process emissions, refrigerant losses and company vehicles. • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from any electricity, heat or steam you purchase and use. Although you’re not directly in control of the emissions, by using the energy you are indirectly responsible for the release of CO2. • Scope 3: Any other indirect emissions from sources outside your direct control. Examples of Scope 3 emissions include purchased goods and services, use of sold goods, employee commuting and business travel, outsourced transportation, waste disposal and water consumption (Ref.

Article provided by Jo Strange, Technical Director at CGL