Christine Glew, Sustainable Development Manager for Capital Delivery, discusses National Grid’s drive to cut carbon across the business and how it’s taking a leadership role in steering stakeholders and the wider industry to do the same.
It’s common knowledge that cutting carbon helps protect our planet for future generations. But there’s also a compelling business case for taking our carbon responsibilities seriously. By curbing carbon, organisations can reduce costs, cut their energy demands and make more informed, long-term investment decisions.
At National Grid, we’re passionate about delivering low-carbon networks and increasing our use of low-carbon technology. This is particularly important when it comes to designing, building and maintaining our vast infrastructure of pipework, overhead lines, buildings, and other assets. By reducing the carbon footprint of these projects, we can deliver energy and resource efficiencies that result in financial savings across the whole lifetime of an asset. So we save money, which is great for our customers, and we make sure that what we do build leaves a sustainable, positive and lasting legacy.
So it’s an important focus for us at National Grid, but the story goes much wider. UK infrastructure projects are responsible for half the country’s carbon emissions. As a responsible business, we recognise the importance of promoting carbon reduction across all organisations involved in infrastructure.
In this context, we’ve been supporting government and industry in designing a guidance document for all infrastructure businesses that lays out consistent carbon management processes that are proven to make a difference. But before we explain that, let’s rewind a few years and put the current carbon climate in context.
The Infrastructure Carbon Review
Back in November 2013, the Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) was published by the UK Treasury and launched jointly by government and industry under the Construction Leadership Council’s Green Construction Board.
The ICR highlights practical ways that organisations and their supply chains can reduce carbon and, in turn, cut the cost of constructing and operating the UK’s infrastructure assets. It makes the case for making carbon reduction part of the infrastructure sector’s DNA.
National Grid endorsed the ICR back in 2013 and we’ve made several commitments to embed its principles in our business. After the ICR, it was generally felt that further guidance was needed to show organisations how to manage and reduce whole life carbon emissions in a consistent way. As a result, a new set of standards was made publicly available on May 4, called PAS 2080: 2016 Carbon Management in Infrastructure.
A guidance document was released alongside this to help organisations understand PAS 2080 more clearly and National Grid was proud to be involved on its Steering Group and Technical Advisory Panel. We helped shape the document, which provides explanation, case studies and working examples from across the infrastructure sectors. It will help more organisations across the value chain to embed carbon reduction in their thinking, identify low-carbon solutions and contribute to important national reductions in carbon emissions.
The ICR principles helped shape the way we’ve embedded carbon reduction into our processes at National Grid. And now, with PAS 2080, our Capital Delivery team is aligning its strategy to PAS. We’ve developed an action plan to ensure we operate to the letter of these important new principles.
Here are the key commitments we’ve made in Capital Delivery, and some of the actions we’ve taken, to lead the way on carbon management.
National Grid’s carbon commitments:
- We commit to holding a high-level event with the leaders of our supply chain to explore how we can work together to drive lower carbon solutions and stimulate innovation
We held a supplier forum with our major suppliers to identify opportunities to unlock carbon savings. We discussed innovative solutions for our top three construction carbon activities – foundations, buildings and roads – and made good progress. Following the forum, we held 13 different supplier events with 27 suppliers, sharing our carbon commitments and targets. We also shared our in-house Carbon Interface Tool (CIT), which accurately calculates the carbon intensity of an infrastructure project. We showed how we’ve used it to monitor the carbon intensity of our schemes at the design stage, and how it’s focused our attention on activities with high carbon intensity. By having such a clear picture of carbon impacts, we can more easily identify alternative solutions. We also shared the CIT with suppliers as part of our procurement tender process. By measuring the carbon footprint of a supplier’s design using a set of standardised metrics, we’re able to manage the carbon and ensure we achieve real reductions.
- We commit to making carbon reduction a requirement on all our major projects and programmes by 2016
It is now compulsory to complete a carbon assessment at the design phase of major construction projects, and it has delivered impressive results. In 2015/16, we achieved a 20% reduction in the carbon intensity of our construction projects, against a 10% reduction target.
- We commit to building carbon reduction into our procurement requirements
For our major infrastructure project tenders, we now have a 5% weighting related to carbon, alongside commercial, technical and environmental requirements. This approach has unlocked costs savings, incentivises suppliers and shows that reducing carbon in our infrastructure is something we take seriously. We used this approach for a recent tender for an electricity substation and achieved 20% carbon savings (39,000 tonnes) and 3% cost savings (£3 million) against the original design.
- We commit to defining clear low-carbon targets
Our dedication to cutting carbon is clear in the challenging carbon emission targets we’ve set ourselves. Our goal is a 45% reduction by 2020 and 80% reduction by 2050, against a 1990 baseline figure. Each business unit has an annual carbon budget to help us achieve these targets. We’ve also set a goal to reduce capital carbon – emissions associated with the creation of an asset – in our UK construction business by 10% each year.
Carbon management: what’s next for National Grid?
We’ll continue to make carbon an integral part of procurement. We’re also building a new approach to how we appraise investments which puts carbon in the spotlight. We want to make sure that we continue to drive out carbon and reduce costs throughout our processes in delivering and maintaining our business’s infrastructure.
We’re also busy putting in place the requirements of PAS 2080 and are in a good position to complete this during the next year. Once that’s done, we’ll work to roll out what we’ve learned across the rest of the business. By using best practice examples from Capital Delivery, we’ll ensure carbon reduction flows through the veins of National Grid, saving costs at every turn and creating infrastructure that operates sustainably for the long term.