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New master’s thesis within the Impres project investigates greenhouse gas reduction in infrastructure projects
One part of the Construction Climate Challenge funded Impres project’s results will be a master’s thesis conducted by Daniel Balian, former student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden and now Sustainability Consultant at WSP Environmental. In the following interview he elaborates further on these interesting results.
What is your master’s thesis about?
“I have compared strategies for greenhouse gas reduction in sustainability assessment schemes and evaluated their feasibility as procurement requirements. I also did a case study of California High-Speed Rail with interviews performed with actors all along the project’s value chain to get to know which driving forces, success factors and challenges they have.”
What were your biggest findings?
“It’s three parts. One is about the sustainability assessment schemes and the possibility to use them as procurement requirements. I have studied the sustainability assessment schemes Envision, BREEAM Infrastructure, CEEQUAL, IS Rating System and the standard PAS2080. Regarding the use of these schemes as direct procurement requirements, it can be tricky. There might be recommendations for greenhouse gas emission reduction, but it is not mandatory to perform. Even if you choose to comply, it can be hard to quantify reductions since requirements for how to define a baseline is usually vague. Therefore you can’t say that you reduce greenhouse gas emissions just by using a sustainability assessment scheme as procurement requirement. One solution is to require a certain performance level in the climate category and not only a ‘pass’. You could also combine them with a standard that is based on requirements, like PAS 2080. In the future more parts within the schemes could be mandatory. The second part is the one about California High-Speed Rail. There I found that one important aspect is that there are a few enthusiasts that have been driving the climate issue forward in the project. Without them, there’s a risk that not much would have happened. The last part is about implementation of greenhouse gas reduction in a project, where experience plays a large role. It doesn’t have to be personal experience but can also be to learn from each other – to watch, to learn and to modify.”
Your thesis shows that driven individuals are important for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in a project. Why is that?
“That is a question that we will continue to examine in the Impres project. In California High-Speed Rail it was quite clear that their Board, through policy actions, CEO and their sustainability manager played a large role in that matter.”
How does California High-Speed Rail work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
“Mainly it is about having effective construction processes. But they also do something that we saw as pretty special, at least compared to how we work in Sweden. They offset emissions on the program level through several projects. For example they plant trees and have replaced school buses and tractors with more effective machines. They also require environmental product declarations for some of the main construction materials. They do that to establish a baseline for the emissions from the project so that they can measure reductions as the project moves forward.”
Your thesis also shows that there is resistance to the inclusion of sustainability issues in procurement requirements. Why is that?
“It’s mainly a concern about the cost. People are afraid that it will be too expensive and hinder competition. But in reality you can actually save money – it’s about having effective processes and saving fuel and construction materials among others. In the California High-Speed Rail the CEO wanted to show that it does not have to be costly. It isn’t expensive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the solution is to learn from each other.”
In what way will your master’s thesis be a part of the Impres project’s results?
“In the Impres project there will be several case studies. The California High-Speed Rail is one of them, so it will be an important part of the results. We will compare the infrastructure projects with each another and create recommendations and guidelines for how to use procurement requirements for more sustainable infrastructure projects.”
Why did you choose to write about this subject?
“Climate change is a very important and current issue, and there is great potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within infrastructure projects. If I can play a part and contribute just a little to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions I’ll happily do that.”
The Impres project aims to contribute to a more efficient implementation of policies and goals for reducing climate impact from the infrastructure sector on a global level, specifically focusing on procurement requirements and the role of international systems for sustainability assessment.
The research project is co-funded by the Construction Climate Challenge (CCC), the Swedish research council Formas through the ProcSIBE project, WSP Group and Skanska. The research is jointly performed by the project partners Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Lund University of Sweden, WSP Group and Skanska.
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