Carbon reduction makes good business sense

Mark Enzer, Mott MacDonald

Mark Enzer, Infrastructure Carbon Review lead author and Mott MacDonald practice manager for water and environment on the value of leadership.

When purse-strings are tight there is a tendency to fall back on tried and tested design and construction solutions. But to think this way is a mistake. Carbon emissions are a proxy for consumption of materials and energy. Therefore, reduced carbon correlates with reduced cost. Clients and contractors seeking of cost-efficiencies should be pursuing low carbon solutions and encouraging innovation to achieve them.

"Anglian Water has driven down capital carbon by 39% and operational carbon by 34% compared to ‘business as usual’, reducing average capital costs of assets by 22% in the process."

Focus on cutting carbon forces consultants, contractors, asset managers and owners to challenge traditional technical, management and commercial solutions. Instead of squeezing supply chain margins, savings are achieved by coming up with new ways to design, build and operate infrastructure.

The UK’s most progressive infrastructure clients and their supply chains have tackled carbon emissions at both a project and a programme level. Anglian Water has driven down capital carbon by 39% and operational carbon by 34% compared to ‘business as usual’, reducing average capital costs of assets by 22% in the process.

At Anglian Water and other firms pioneering the low carbon approach, leadership has been key to success. Chris Newsome, director of asset management at Anglian Water, states: “We have gained real value from lower carbon solutions. The greatest benefit comes from joining up the value chain, with the client taking the lead in defining clear ‘low carbon’ targets and being responsive to the opportunities that are offered. That’s what leads to positive, sustainable outcomes.”

The ability to lead is not exclusive to those at the top of an organisation, nor to those at the higher end of the value chain. Leadership can come from anywhere, and if organisations are going to create the kind of culture shift we need where carbon is concerned, they must encourage leadership from their junior staff, and from their suppliers, because leadership flows up as well as down.

Of course, commitment and leadership from senior staff remains important. Carbon should consistently be in the ‘top 10’ items for board meeting agendas, because those boards produce the policy-based framework within which strategic decisions about carbon can sit.

Leveraging leadership from both ends of the spectrum is essential to making carbon reduction a core organisational value. What people believe about carbon determines what they do about carbon – people need to see and know that carbon is of central importance. Carbon reduction must take its place within organisations’ DNA in a similar way to ethics and health and safety, because, like those values, carbon reduction makes business sense. Shared values such as these drive the overall culture of an organisation.

If you are passionate about carbon, but don’t consider yourself to be in a ‘leadership position’, think again. Whatever your position and status, you can show leadership from below through leading by example and badgering whomever around you needs to be badgered, to persuade them to take up the mantle of carbon reduction.

The Infrastructure Carbon Review provides compelling arguments for reducing carbon and practical advice on how to get started into 16 information-packed pages. Read it here 

For more on crunching carbon, cutting cost talk to Davide Stronati, Mott MacDonald Group sustainability manager.