The biggest impact on carbon emissions generated through large infrastructure projects is surprisingly not emissions from construction vehicles – machinery, excavators, haulers, lorries etc – but it is from the construction materials – concrete, cement, asphalt, reinforced steel which account for almost 50% of the carbon emissions of a project, explained Sustainability Consultant, Stefan Uppenberg (WSP Group) at the CCC seminar ‘Climate Challenges in Infrastructure Projects, at this year’s Bauma trade fair in Munich.
Sweden has already taken action at national level by setting carbon emissions requirements which came into force in February 2016. They apply to all large infrastructure projects (over EUR 5 million) and require a 15% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 (on 2015 baseline).
The requirements are part of country-wide efforts to achieve a carbon neutral Sweden with zero net emissions by 2050.
“The new specifications are presented as functional requirements,” Uppenberg explains. “It is up to the contractors to decide how they are achieved. The overriding aim of the new requirements is to stimulate improvements in all parts of the value chain.”
Two years ago the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences published a report estimating the carbon emissions from the construction sector. This showed that less than half came from buildings, more than half resulted from civil engineering – building roads, railways, energy plants and other infrastructure projects etc. Vehicles account for around 20-25%.
A recent carbon calculation undertaken for 150 major infrastructure projects in Sweden over the coming 10 years shows that more than half of the total emissions will come from the materials used (including 35% from concrete, 22% from reinforced steel).
Uppenberg who is an adviser to the Swedish Transport Administration says it is vital to start using more low carbon materials in the steel and cement industry to reach the targets for emission reductions.
“It should be possible to achieve 20-25% reductions by 2020, and 50% by 2025 (with further developments),” he says, “just using measures that are available today. Just in the construction and planning phase.
“There is a large potential just by using the available technologies today such as low carbon materials, low emission vehicles, reducing amounts of materials in the planning phase etc.”
Uppenberg has also been a driving force in Sweden for developing the use of sustainability assessment schemes, like CEEQUAL, within the Sweden Green Building Council (SGBC) for clients like Trafikverket (National Transport Administration), Skanska, NCC and other actors in the Swedish civil engineering business.
His focus area is development and implementation of methods, tools and requirements for carbon footprint calculations and environmental product declarations, EPD, based on life cycle assessment, LCA, for infrastructure projects.
The approach of the new government requirements for infrastructure projects is to tell industry what they want, but not tell them how to do it, he says.
The response from industry to the requirements has been very positive.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about this in industry. Many contractors have already worked with these carbon emission issues for a long time and have the tools for carbon calculations for its projects. Many believe that cutting the use of resources will save money.