Copper Consultancy hosted an online panel focusing on the role the transport sector could play in a modal shift in the Transport East region. The webinar, chaired by Gemma Lloyd, Account Director for Transport, discussed active travel implementation, decarbonisation, road inclusivity and safety – featuring insight from Sarah Jane Crawford (Network Rail), Esme Yuill (Transport East), Marny Moruzzi (Mott Macdonald) and Laura Nelson (Copper).

The session discussed the need for localised and inclusive engagement, to better understand the daily transport-related barriers that people living in the region faced. As mentioned by Esme Yuill, the Transport East region is extremely rural, meaning that the accessibility of town centres by walking or public transport is even lower than the rural average. All the panellists agreed that there is a need for an integrated transport plan in the region, focusing especially on reducing car dependency.

Understanding how people use different transport links, and the needs of different communities, can play an important role in changing the way projects are being delivered. Sarah Jane Crawford emphasised the importance of listening to people, providing an example of a rail connection removed during Covid which was known to everyone in the area as the “school train”. The importance and value of local knowledge provided by stakeholders were emphasised during the panel, as many local residents and stakeholders can become project advocates if only they are listened to.

In addition to this, there is a need to make train journeys more appealing to the local community. A stable journey, meaning a reliable train to reduce ‘dead time’ is important to entice people to use public transport. By making the journey time reliable it can result in a more comfortable experience with public transport.

Marny Moruzzi who is Vice President of Women in Transport noted that “we need to pay more attention to community-based initiatives” pointing out that with the number of big projects in the region, engaging with local towns and villages is crucial. Marny rightly mentioned that there is a reason why people enjoy living in rural areas and that sometimes too much development can cause resentment as it could spoil the rurality of the region. That’s why communication and localised engagement are crucial when developing new transport improvements, as well as when thinking of proposed projects.

Another point discussed was the transition to electric vehicles, given how many people need to drive in the East region, to be able to access work, school and health facilities. Esme Yuill highlighted the various issues associated with chargers’ placement, firstly, on often historic streets, and secondly considering the commercial and political challenges.

All panellists agreed that there is no one thing that will be able to mitigate the unique challenges that the region currently faces. As a third of people in the East live in rural areas, it is especially important to improve transport in those areas. Transport East has been developing a Centre of Excellence for rural mobility, focusing on the challenges and opportunities associated with transport in the region.


To watch Copper Consultancy’s webinar on Connecting the Rural Areas, click here (you may need to register in order to be able to access the recording.)

This year a number of the challenges which have long been facing the water sector have reached boiling point. After a year of negative press attention focused on storm overflows, hosepipe bans, bosses’ bonuses and leaking pipes, both water companies and Ofwat are under increased public and political scrutiny. 

This wave of coverage has been gaining momentum since the summer. Where previously the water industry had struggled to captivate public attention, customers and other stakeholders are increasingly seeing the industry in papers, alongside worrying about the effect it has on their pockets.  

All this comes at a time when public trust in the ability to deliver new water infrastructure is needed more than ever. 

It may be reassuring then that these concerns have resulted in calls for action. Recent research undertaken by Copper Consultancy found that 66% of the public thinks new infrastructure is needed and 40% think it’s needed urgently. This readiness, combined with an interest in direct effects to the water coming out of our taps, creates an opportunity to inform. It’s well established that a lack of understanding on a topic can act as a barrier to engagement. As we enter 2023, what’s needed is public education, alongside technical solutions and possible regulatory reforms, if we are to successfully address these challenges. 

Pressure from the public and the media has inevitably been reinforced politically, with Labour and the Lib Dems having sought to put clear blue water between themselves and the current Conservative administration. The Lib Dems have called for banning bonuses until leaky pipes are repaired, while shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, has accused Coffey’s first term as Defra minister a ‘monumental sewage spillage.’  

However, the public and political prioritisation of issues with the boldest optics risks short-term wins leading to little recognition of the long-term challenges facing the industry. Improvements to distribution networks, such as new reservoirs, decarbonising water treatment, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change and a growing population will take time to deliver and mean local communities will need to be ready for change.   

The relationship between water companies – as developers of new infrastructure – and the public is complex. Local communities are their customers, as well as being planning stakeholders, voters and the ultimate end users of physical infrastructure projects in their area. There is no one single story to be told by the water sector. Communicating the need for new projects and technologies will require different channels and entry points. But beyond the news cycle and politicking, it appears that the public are ready for change and still willing to listen.    

Our 2022 research, Readiness and reassurance: A study of public attitudes to water infrastructure, can be found here, for more information contact  

We spoke to Lara Young, Group Climate Change Director at Costain and Chair of the Institute of Civil Engineers’ Carbon Champion Review Panel, to understand the steps the industry is taking to drive to Net Zero by 2050.

In our new series, The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero, we explore the oxymorons of infrastructure – those roles that, on the surface, seem to be anything but sustainable.

The global built environment is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions and 50% of extracted materials. If the UK is to meet its target of reaching net zero by 2050, it is critical that construction is decarbonised.

“No organisation can achieve net zero on its own”, begins Lara. “A huge part of Costain’s focus is ensuring that we lead by example and enable others to achieve their targets. Realistically, it is only when other organisations achieve their targets that we can achieve ours – which means collaborating across industry is paramount.”

 Walking the talk

After years of growing awareness of the need to accelerate decarbonisation, for Lara, the time for delivery is now.

“It is now sink or swim. We either take action or we will cease to exist. We have to follow through on that initial enthusiasm with action, doing what we said we were going to do. This is true for every organisation.

“Awareness of the topic has grown since 2018/19. The build up to COP26 saw a huge amount of pressure to enshrine commitments. COP26 was a good accelerator for organisations adopting targets, though it is now imperative that they are delivered upon.”

 Cutting through the noise

While there is ambition to deliver credible change across infrastructure, Lara admits that there is confusion about what meaningful change looks like.

“The sheer amount of confusion and intangibility around the topic is one of the challenges we face. The difficulty is in cutting through the noise around net zero and understanding what it actually means in real life.

“However, there is a huge amount of ambition now, which is brilliant. There is a genuine willingness to do the right thing and engagement with the topic. But not necessarily the maturity to understand exactly what is needed to be done.”

 Risk taking and innovation

Technological innovation is a key component of the drive to decarbonise work practices in construction. Lara believes it is crucial that those new technologies are applied in the right way once they have passed the theoretical design period.

“The industry is really great at trialling and testing new technologies, however we struggle to industrialise that innovation once it moves past the point of being tested and trialled. I think governance and policy could help make that happen more quickly and at scale.

“However, having the right technology is not the be all and end all, it needs to be used to drive tangible change. Using technology and innovation in the most effective manner to achieve the outcomes we need is key to achieving net zero.”

 Moment of clarity

There is much to be hopeful for on the horizon. From her experience with clients, Lara believes that the industry is fast approaching a moment of realisation, in acknowledging that no-one has all the answers.

“We do need to become comfortable in admitting that we only know part of the solution. There is this balance between wanting to do the right thing, but also trying to respond to pressure to equate scale with success. It is often these grandiose projects and pledges that may be harming the route to delivering credible and meaningful change.

“My role seeks to ensure that we can cut through the noise to ensure we do not get distracted with ‘nice to do’ projects, which may be great project but not the most relevant at this point in time. I think the priority for most projects is that while there is a genuine desire for change, there is uncertainty about what is needed and how best to go about this.”

Leading by example

It is clear that a collaborative effort is needed to deliver net zero in construction. Not simply by promoting best practice but leading that change and acting on commitments.

“If we are expecting others to do the same, we have to lead by example. We are more mature than many and we can support our supply chain on the journey to net zero. There are also niche areas where other partners will be more informed than us and we can learn from their experience.

“By 2023, we will provide a low carbon option on every project as a standard.  Over time, this will ensure we are driving behaviour change with our customers and flagging opportunities to make an impact.”

Clear communication

Simplicity and clarity are the watchwords for any organisation approaching messaging on sustainability goals. Ensuring any claims are backed up by credible, deliverable results is critical, as Lara explains.

“We should all be striving to keep our language accessible to everyone, ensuring everyone understands the role they will play in helping their organisation to achieve net zero.

Organisations should be celebrating success and demonstrating the progress they are making in delivering their decarbonisation commitments.”

Construction has demonstrated the innovative streak to trial radical technologies required to decarbonise. It is critical to match this with the will to implement those technologies to bring about the required revolution.

More than this, the innovative fervour must be accompanied by a readiness to admit where gaps in knowledge are and a zeal to build on them, to construct a clear path to decarbonisation.

Find out more about Lara and the team’s efforts to achieve net zero here.

And stay tuned to Copper’s channels for more articles in our search for The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero.

The Government has made its most significant intervention to-date on the direction of housebuilding in the UK, with Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove signalling that the 300,000 homes per year manifesto target is now an advisory goal.

Among the other key proposals, we will see the consideration for resident views playing a more influential role in the determining of planning applications.

The gravity of this change in direction should not be underappreciated. Three years since the publication of the Planning White Paper which aimed to radically improve the delivery of new homes, the Conservatives now promote policy designed to ‘give local authorities the power to stop new development’.

And what of the announcement?


Community Control

The crux of this sees housing targets move from mandatory to advisory. Critically, local housing need will not need to be adhered to if the local authorities demonstrate reasonable constraints for achieving this.

The concerns of existing residents have been prioritised, with their views now determining how many homes are agreed to be built in their local authority. Equally so for aesthetic tastes of future homes, the introduction of local design codes and Street Votes will be guided by the opinions of existing residents. The latter allowing for ‘gentle densification’ through airspace development and upward extensions on properties. This policy attempts to weave together the need to increase domiciles, while avoiding the unproven criticism that more homes will lower existing homeowners property value.

In a bid to ensure local homes go to ‘local people’, council tax will be increased on empty homes. Gove has also signalled his intention to table an amendment at the Report Stage of the Bill for a registration scheme on short lets in England.


Local and Neighbourhood Plans

Local Plan amendments are the most positive element of Gove’s letter. The announcements are designed to reimbue local authorities with the energy to restart their Local Plan process without any penalty.

The most significant changes are the removal of presumption in favour of development and the consideration for areas that have overdelivered their historic targets. This is intended to ensure up to date local planning guidance, without the implication that unmanageable development will occur. The beneficial elements for local authorities include the removal of the rolling-five year land supply and 20 per cent buffer for those local authorities that have already delivered a sound Local Plan.

The localist drive is further evident in ending the ‘duty-to-cooperate’, potentially making housing policies of neighbouring authorities becoming even more indifferent to the realities of the local demographic geography.

Gove has offered a two year grace period for Local Plans to be revised to incorporate these amendments. To safeguard against ‘speculative development’ during this time, the period of available land being promoted will decrease from five to four years.

Neighbourhood Plans too will have their powers enhanced to include new protections, such as the doubling of the time period against developer appeals, increasing from two to five years.


Damning developers

 Gove is unapologetic from his criticism of developers in the letter, who he perceives need to be held to further account. Additional measures targeting developers are populist in nature, with an added a financial penalty for slow build out and an increased fee for retrospective planning applications that breach planning law.

The most worrying element is the intention to allow local authorities to refuse planning, if they feel the developers character is poor. This arbitrary power potentially traps developers in a cycle where poor performance cannot be redeemed.

Encouraging developers to prioritise brownfield build out is a key component of the proposals.  Local authorities will be allowed powers to set preferential Infrastructure Levy rates for brownfield over greenfield development. New protections against development will also be given to agricultural land used for food production.


What does this mean for the sector?

With residents now poised to have an even greater say in deciding the level of development in their communities, those in development sector will need to reach a much broader audience than previously. Far from relegating it, the need to foster grassroots advocacy has never been more crucial.

As witnessed as recently as during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has displayed a readiness and effectiveness at meeting new requirements to engagement. Now, faced with this more permanent challenge, community consultation will need to adapt and to innovate to meet it.

At this year’s Highways UK, Copper Consultancy hosted an in-person panel event at Highways UK on biodiversity implementation. The event, chaired by Copper Director for Infrastructure and Major Projects Andrew Weaver, focused on the role the sector could play in enhancing biodiversity on projects and the value add of new initiatives – featuring insight from Kate Vincent (Atkins), Howard Gray (GreenBlue Urban), Liz Allchin (Jacobs) and Joanna Gilroy (Balfour Beatty plc). 

The key takeaway from the session focused on the need for biodiversity implementation at the early stages of the project lifecycle. All panellists agreed that, too often, biodiversity is seen as a blocker to projects’ acceptance, with net zero goals being deemed “too hard” to achieve.  

Dismantling these myths and heightening overall awareness and education of concepts like biodiversity net gain can play an important role in changing the way projects are being delivered. Kate Vincent emphasised the importance of digital collaboration, as well as valuing the local knowledge of the stakeholders; adding that many local residents and stakeholders can become project advocates if only they are being listened to. 

Liz Allchin, meanwhile, noted that “we need to look at biodiversity from the perspective of habitats and not species” pointing out that too often biodiversity is only thought of at the end of the project. Especially when project teams are heavily engineering-focused, there is a need for senior leadership teams to make sure that the ecological aspects aren’t overlooked.  

Joana Gilroy also highlighted the need to transition away from the traditional cost/benefit analysis of road projects, arguing that the industry needs to find a way to value ecosystems, as well as stop focusing on who pays for adding to areas’ biodiversity. Ultimately, it’s all of us that will lose out if flora and fauna are sabotaged without mitigation measures in place.  

With the requirements for Biodiversity Net Gain in all Nationally Significant Infrastructure projects incoming in November 2023, panellist Howards Gray rightfully acknowledged that biodiversity is no longer going to be a ‘nice thing to have’. For this to succeed, the cost, social and ecological aspects must be valued equally. There is a need for planners and developers to look at projects holistically and link biodiversity goals to other KPIs – ensuring that the strategic objectives of the projects are clearly understood at the start of the project lifecycle.  


To watch Copper Consultancy’s webinar on Biodiversity Net Gain from February 2022, click here 

Close to 75% of businesses expect to expand the types of major change initiatives they will undertake from 2020-2023, but 50% of change initiatives fail. Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development at Copper, explains why.

Now, more than ever, we’re living through a period of change. It’s happening in every industry. From adopting digital-first approaches to implementing policies that support the race to net zero, organisations are restructuring the way they do things.

Building resilience to change itself is also becoming more prevalent, with many businesses taking a data-led approach to stimulate, predict and facilitate internal change.

However, half of all change initiatives fail.


Many change initiatives are imposed upon employees, reducing their longevity as they are not tailored to and embedded within company ethos. Employee sentiment plays a pivotal role in change initiatives, so engaging them in the journey is key.

  • Change generally isn’t communicated effectively to employees and the benefits aren’t demonstrated convincingly.

A dedicated communication strategy for rolling out change is often overlooked in favour of advancing operational models, which often leaves communication by the wayside.

  • Change management efforts fail to be tracked, evaluated and adapted.

The success of a change programme is largely based on employee reception and an organisation’s ability to adapt accordingly. This step can be the difference between ignored and accepted.

  • There is a lack of executive sponsorship or leadership.

A top-down approach is often not considered, resulting in a lack of senior buy-in and advocacy. Change is about vision and inspiration, which needs to be driven from the top.

Building change to last

While operational change is the key to changing business models, the real shift in people comes from behaviour change. That’s why we recently launched our change management solution – C:change.

C:change enables organisations to build momentum for their change programme by engaging stakeholders and bringing them on a journey. The five-step model takes a co-creation approach, working with your audience to develop and deploy change management programmes, ensuring we build advocacy at every step.

Capture the imagination

Communication remains avital aspect of articulating and demonstrating the benefits that businesses are making. But, more importantly, it’s the platform for companies to explain why the change matters and to showcase their vision for the future – capturing the imagination. After all, people are far more likely to come on the journey if they know the destination.

Striking the right balance

Change management programmes must strike the right balance between driving advocacy and empowering change. This stems from having a rich understanding of employee behaviours and attitudes, which can help futureproof change strategies. Essentially, taking more of a psychologist’s view will ensure change lasts.

For change to be successful, a behavioural shift is required – both in how you operate and communicate.

Find out more. Contact Ronan Cloud, Director of Economic Development at Copper.

Learn more about C:change.

Nuclear energy, along with hydrogen, has been presented by the Conservative government as the solution to the UK’s energy crisis. The confirmation of funding to deliver the new Sizewell C power station is a welcome part of the Autumn financial package that places energy, along with infrastructure and innovation, at the heart of the Government’s priorities for the future.

In our new series, The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero, we explore the oxymorons of infrastructure – those roles that, on the surface, seem to be anything but sustainable.

Today, we speak to Jas Sidhu, president of the Nuclear Institute, to understand the role that nuclear energy can play in the drive to Net Zero by 2050.

“In terms of getting to Net Zero, the only viable option includes nuclear power,” begins Mr Sidhu “The consensus across major international institutions is that all low carbon technologies, including nuclear, will need to be deployed urgently and at scale in order to achieve Net Zero targets”.


Who leads who?

For Jas, the changing policy priorities of successive Governments has seen the initiative for nuclear development stall significantly.

“Nuclear energy generates between 15 – 20% of our nation’s electricity at the moment. This is scheduled to decrease because of the current fleet of gas cooled reactors reaching end of life. There’s a lot of talk, but it all needs investment, which the Government needs to facilitate asap.”

There is hope for the future, with organisations within the nuclear sector driving that change. The Nuclear Institute’s Young Generation Network (YGN) is a key part of driving that change.

“The YGN has been in existence for over 20 years and currently consists of approximately 1,250 members. The YGNs position paper, ‘Nuclear for Climate’ is a grassroots initiative gathering nuclear professionals with the goal of opening a dialogue with policymakers and the public about the necessity of including nuclear energy among the carbon-free solutions to climate change. Its vision is for a clean, sustainable and abundant low-carbon future for all. Our mission is to accelerate the ability of the world to achieve Net Zero by 2050, by driving collaboration between nuclear and renewable technology.”

Presently, the sector is developing new technologies, but is dependent upon the Government to take action to unlock further progress, similar to that which it has done for other industries.

“If you look at battery storage, British industries put forward a strong business case, which the Government supported because they understood it was in the national interest. That hasn’t happened at the same pace with nuclear investment. It cannot simply be left to market forces to deliver critical national infrastructure. The state needs to have a greater influence in facilitating the delivery of future nuclear technology. Serious investment is needed and although you may not see the results for 10 to 15 years, it is critical to undertake.”


Behavioural change is key to drive new skills and talent

Jas’s own journey into nuclear began from witnessing the industry’s greatest tragedy. As a sixth form student in April 1986, watching the disaster in Chernobyl, near Pripyat in Ukraine, unfold before him, Jas was as encouraged as he was abhorred by the tragedy, which propelled him on the path to studying nuclear engineering.

“I was at school – studying A-levels in maths, physics and music – and that one event inspired me to study nuclear engineering.”

Drawing from his own journey, Jas emphasises the need to encourage STEM take-up at schools as a path into nuclear engineering for the next generation.

“From a nuclear industry point of view, attracting youngsters to study STEM in the first place is one of our priorities. From that, we can facilitate a greater pool of talent coming into the nuclear industry.”

There is a danger that there will be a gap between the current generation of nuclear engineers and those of future generations of graduates. The risk, for Jas, is not simply for the future energy security of the UK, but the defence of the realm itself.

“We have 65,000 staff employed in civil nuclear industries and a further 20,000 in national defence. We have amazing talent but an ageing workforce that needs to be replaced by future generations of students coming to join the nuclear industry.”

For Jas, action needs to be taken early in the education cycle, broadening awareness and interest for nuclear technologies in the classroom. This necessitates the recruitment of teachers with the right expertise and enthusiasm for the sector.

“Getting teachers on message will be critical to ensuring it is made accessible to students. Including studies on the curriculum is not enough unless you have teachers who are buying into it as well – and it’s on the industry to ensure that happens”


Collaboration is critical

While interaction between partners in the sector is not uncommon, Jas admits that a shared approach towards addressing the challenges of the sector is needed.

“We often have discussions with partners, such as the National Nuclear Laboratory. Issues relating to recruitment, training and supply chains are all common . We all like talking to each other, but we are less good at broadcasting outside of the industry. This is partly because of the industry’s history, but this needs to change to reach a more public channel.”

What of the existing energy companies in the fossil fuel industry? Does collaboration occur there also?

“There is this perception that the pursuit of net zero will lead to mass redundancies in the fossil fuel workforce. However, we are open to employing scientific and engineering professionals in the nuclear industry, who started their careers in fossil fuels.”

Jas’ comments demonstrate the necessity for the nuclear industry to rebrand its image in public perception. The Chernobyl disaster, which propelled Jas on his trajectory towards a nuclear career, also casts a heavy shadow in the minds of people today. Along with Fukushima more recently, these incidents make a disproportionate impact on the image of the nuclear industry.

Nuclear energy is going to play a large part of the mixed renewable energy mix in future. Therefore, the present anxieties towards the perceived dangers of the industry need to be overcome.

It is critical for both the UK’s energy and defence security that this narrative can be reconstructed and delivered through a comprehensive and continued campaign. Without this, the opportunity to encourage greater emphasis in school curriculums and routes into jobs within the sector will not be achieved.


Find out more about Jas and the team’s efforts to achieve net zero here.

And stay tuned to Copper’s channels for more articles in our search for The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero.


The logistics sector is the backbone of the UK economy. It accounts for £55bn of the UK GDP, 1.7m jobs, and underpins how we function day-to-day, both in business and our everyday lives. But what does the public think about the sector and how do communities respond to large-scale logistics hubs?

Changes in shopping patterns alone have accelerated the growth of the logistics industry. COVID-19 shifted the onus onto online shopping, with more and more people abandoning district centre shopping in favour of ordering from their laptop or smartphone.

The likes of Amazon and other online retailers were the main beneficiaries, whilst supermarkets also adapted. In total, online sales grew by over 20% during the period of lockdowns between 2020 and 2021.


53 football pitches

To accommodate the growth in demand, more and more land is required for warehousing and logistics hubs. In fact, the equivalent of 53 football pitches is required across Europe to fulfil demand in the next few years.

However, it’s clear that our planning legislation has been slow to catch up. Local Plans are still very residential focused, with employment (or commercial) land sometimes counted as an after-thought when local authorities draw up their development frameworks. As well as this, public attitudes towards logistics development does not always align with the growth in demand.


Economic gains drive support

To help understand the challenges facing the sector and also to provide insight on how best to work with communities in developing logistics proposals, Copper commissioned detailed research into how the logistics development is perceived by people across the UK.

Our findings have uncovered some interesting considerations and with it helped us in providing some key recommendations:

  • There is broad degree of understanding that the development of employment land is necessary:
    • 67% would support the development of logistics centres because of the employment opportunities they would bring
    • 61% cited economic growth as a reason for support
  • There is a degree of misunderstanding about how the logistics sector functioned, meaning educating communities on what logistics is and how it functions is required.


Changing perceptions

To assist with tackling these issues, we have developed four key recommendations for the sector based on the research we commissioned:

  1. More collaboration with local authorities is required to develop shared goals and objectives
  2. People are largely supportive of the economic importance of the logistics sector and therefore should be front and centre of any proposals
  3. There is a degree of misunderstanding about the sector, therefore an education programme on its importance and way it works is required
  4. Early engagement is key. Working with communities in developing proposals and schemes will minimise challenge and problems.

Now, these steps are not a magic bullet for all logistics development. However, we are introducing these thoughts as part of a conversation to build stronger collaboration between the sector, communities and local authorities. It’s clear that demand for logistics development is growing, but without the necessary land or planning approvals the sector will stall.

It’s clear that there is a huge amount of opportunity for the logistics sector to work with communities and local authorities to meet the growing demand for logistics development. However, engagement and positioning is key to ensure proposals are welcomed.


To find out more about our research and findings visit Logistics-Report.pdf (

Building towards a sustainable future

Great strides are being made to decarbonise the built environment industry and push sustainability even further up corporate agendas, panelists in the first of our ‘Green Construction’ series of webinars heard on 12 October.

But more effort is needed by industry to measure the carbon emissions involved in building new assets. Stakeholders must also focus on considering if existing infrastructure can be reused instead, and ensure that whole supply chains are fully invested in maximising environmental awareness.

National Highways’ director of environmental sustainability Stephen Elderkin told the session: “Every time we produce a cost estimate for one of our schemes, we produce a carbon estimate too.”

Such an approach adopted more widely should ensure that design houses and contractors know the carbon associated with a design and how it will be scored, allowing for the client to consider more fully carbon reduction ambitions in a contract, he explained.

Our very own Chair, Phoebe Sullivan, asked panelists for their views on the built environment sector’s ability to help meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050.

“We are at a point where everyone knows they need to be doing something,” remarked Mace’s global head of responsible business James Low. “We know where we need to get to; now we must deliver on our promises and where possible, accelerate them.”

Faithful+Gould’s sustainability technical lead Annabel Clark agreed. “We know exactly what we need to do, it’s just a question of how we get there.” She added that many companies understand the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and have made “really big commitments” to do so.

Measuring embodied carbon

Conversation turned to ‘Scope 3’ emissions, which are those produced not by a business itself, but by others along a supply chain. “Scope 3 is becoming all important if we are going to reach net zero by 2050, otherwise we are ignoring a big chunk of emissions,” said environmental think tank Green Alliance’s policy analyst Verner Viisainen.

“Without measuring those Scope 3 emissions or having mandatory reporting on them, we won’t get to where we need to be.” Everybody needs to be responsible for their Scope 3, across the board, he added.

But the industry should not wait to measure emissions before taking action to cut them, warned James Low. “In the built environment, people know the pound value of their asset and the square meterage of what they are building. We should equally know a third metric: the carbon involved in everything we are doing.”

Stephen Elderkin told the session that one of National Highways’ flagship schemes, the Lower Thames Crossing, is set to be the first major infrastructure project to use hydrogen construction plant at scale.

There is a push, he explained, to spend more on such technology to help “prime the market, so we can get these technologies available for the rest of our portfolio”.

But he also said: “We need a large investment from the plant industry if we are going to turn over all plant on our sites to zero emission by 2030.

Expanding carbon literacy

RSK’s senior carbon consultant, Jamie Blunden, said there is a collective need for the built environment sector to increase its ‘carbon literacy’.

By “joining the dots together within design teams” he noted, and “with a bit more communication”, real value can be achieved from measuring carbon. “If we can continue to increase our carbon literacy in the way we have seen in the last three years, we will see it naturally become a part of how people work.”

Stephen Elderkin added that the built environment sector has to “question if we can use our existing assets more productively, so we don’t need to build more”.

In the case of strategic roads, he asked, can more motorists be accommodated without building additional carriageway and can the longevity of the asset be increased?

Beyond focusing on materials, Stephen added, “there is a strategic level dimension” to cutting carbon which is really important.

Verner Viisainen concurred, “We need to think about whether we need that construction in the first place and there needs to be much more emphasis on retrofitting existing buildings, extending their lifetimes and ensuring we are making best use of the existing stock before we go out and build.”

Jamie Blunden spoke about a spatial development strategy in one UK city which considers a ‘whole life’ carbon assessment for buildings, which is encouraging greater collaboration to renew assets rather than rebuild.

He gave an example of a major retailer who was set to knock down its flagship store, until the city authority intervened and called for a review. This showed, he added, that “pressure is being applied to make sure they are considering the reuse of the building.

Collaboration and developing skills

It was also said that companies are starting to work more closely in order to share knowledge and help tackle the environmental challenge. “We have never seen better collaboration across industry,” remarked Annabel Clark of Faithful+Gould.

She pointed out that professionals involved in designing, building and operating building projects are increasingly thinking about the ‘circular economy’ and considering how structures could be adapted for different uses.

Attention turned to the skills needed by the built environment sector to deliver on the decarbonisation agenda. “We know there is a skills shortage in the industry, so we must come together, quickly, to help upskill and create opportunities for more people to support the climate challenge.” said James Low.

Innovating for the future

Phoebe mentioned that the industry circles around the need for innovation and asked whether the panel thought the sector is making sufficient gains in developing innovations to help it to decarbonise.

James Low quoted findings presented by the management consultant McKinsey which suggested that 80% of our journey to net zero can be delivered with mature technologies that exist today.

“Innovation is important, but let’s not ignore the fact that most of the solutions we need already exist.”

Stephen Elderkin agreed that mature technologies can get the sector most of the way to net zero and wondered whether innovation is not the challenge, but investment in new technologies is.

Net zero: a matter of interpretation

But what does achieving net zero actually mean, asked Annabel Clark. “It means completely different things to different organisations.

“We need to be able to compare better to get benchmarks in place. Just saying ‘net zero carbon’ isn’t enough.”

Jamie Blunden added that “the more that we share information” around carbon, “the better the benchmarks”.

James Low added: “I really don’t think you will be able to design something that is not net zero in the next few years. No matter what your role is, I think you are going to have a part in this.”