When the UK played host to COP26 in October last year, over 40 governments signed up to ‘the Glasgow Breakthroughs’ – a series of commitments to speed up the development of clean technologies to help achieve key climate targets by 2030.

These commitments made decarbonising industry everyone’s business – from the smallest supply chain company to the largest contractor and government department.

With a combination of legal directives and customer pressure quickly moving sustainability up the procurement agenda, every supplier across the civil engineering sector is expected to have a sustainability roadmap. This lays out not only what the company itself is doing to improve its environmental performance, but also how that plays a part in helping customers achieve their sustainability goals.

At the heart of each roadmap lies a commitment to identifying and reducing CO2 emissions. This includes emissions resulting from the organisation’s own operations (Scope 1), as well as its upstream and downstream activities (Scope 3). As a result, companies throughout the civil engineering supply chain are effectively interdependent when it comes to achieving the sector’s Net Zero goals.


The nature of infrastructure makes this a real challenge though.

For example, roads, airports, stadia, tunnels or stations typically involve the use of high-carbon materials such as concrete and steel. Some Scope 1 reductions can be delivered in the design stages by making use of off-site manufacturing techniques and other modern methods of construction, but often these are not readily applicable to infrastructure in the way they may be for other construction projects.

So what more can be done to help the sector meet its Net Zero targets, beyond large-scale carbon offsetting?

The answer lies in innovation, particularly developing Cleantech solutions.

At the time of writing, it is expected that 40% of emissions reductions will rely on technologies that are not yet commercially deployed at scale. These might include alternative or lower-carbon materials such as lower-carbon concrete and other aggregates; diesel genset replacement technologies; leaner construction techniques to reduce waste; and exploring new end-of-life materials and waste management processes, including digital solutions.

There are challenges involved in bringing all of these to market, not least of which is the time it takes to identify development partners, trial use cases and navigate the regulatory frameworks required to enable adoption of new technologies and processes into design and procurement frameworks.

That is why collaboration across the supply chain is crucial.

National Highways recently announced that the Lower Thames Crossing – a key infrastructure project delivering a road tunnel from Kent to Essex – will be used as a testbed to explore carbon neutral pathways, sharing plans with the supply chain and wider industry to become a catalyst for change. Requiring supply chain companies bidding to support the project to demonstrate their commitment to its low-carbon goals is an important step forwards when it comes to placing carbon reduction at the heart of the agenda.

Specialist accelerators and agile bootcamp programmes also have an important role to play, supporting the development of Cleantech innovations and encouraging their wider adoption as part of the industry’s drive towards Net Zero. These initiatives allow innovators – from small organisations to established businesses, even those with in-house R&D teams – to take focused time out of their day-to-day operations to explore Cleantech solutions, accelerating their route to market.

Working with specialist consultants who live and breathe the Cleantech innovation eco-system, and who understand the regulatory and practical considerations unique to each industry, means participants can navigate the legal and regulatory requirements more quickly, identify development partners and feed effective innovations into procurement frameworks at an earlier stage than might otherwise be the case – all of which accelerates that all important return on investment while helping the sector reach its Net Zero goals.

With geopolitical pressures driving energy prices ever higher, harsh commercial realities mean the civil engineering sector needs to focus ever-more on innovation to reduce its emissions. The time for action is now.

Linda Smith is founder and chief executive of BetaDen North Cleantech Bootcamp


Source: New Civil Engineer

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