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.

Just a couple of months have passed since Kwasi Kwarteng delivered the now infamous mini budget and Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement signalled a radical departure from that short-lived ideology.

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 (copperconsultancy.com)

Logistics makes up the backbone of the UK economy. Without the organised transport of goods, equipment, and produce, our way of living would be simply impossible.

In our latest insight report, Copper looks at the impact of major infrastructure projects through the eyes of the communities they serve – assessing past actions, understanding today’s experiences and identifying what could be improved for future projects.

You can read the report here: The infrastructure lifecycle from the perspective of communities.



Over the next three years, the client has several key objectives to meet including delivering 60 new transport-related infrastructure projects. To do this it must change the way staff and consultant teams work, which will mean adopting new working practices and tools.

There was cynicism across the business as to whether the change management programmewould work, with some staff members feeling change was happening “to them” rather than “with them”.


To begin with, Copper Consultancy developed a narrative and key messaging document for the project. This would ensure the business (over 5,000 staff) would speak with one voice and clarity about the programme. Secondly, Copper developed an OASIS communications strategy to make sure there was a step-by-step approach to both internal and external communications.

This approach meant there was a consistency of message and voice regardless of who was being communicated to (staff, supply change, media, politicians, etc). By minimising misinformation and driving clarity, trust would be built through the organisationabout the change programme.


The OASIS framework was adopted unanimously by all directorates and work began engaging with staff. This included a Town Hall style webinar for employees and the development of a video that could be shared across all internal channels.

As well as this, a social media strategy was developed for the Executive Team. This recommended a series of approaches to help position and promote senior leaders as influencers and thought-leaders on specific social channels such as Linked-In, further building trust with external stakeholders.

The change management project is still progressing, and by utilisingthe OASIS Framework developed by Copper, several ‘pilot’ schemes have been implemented within the programmeand received positive feedback from staff and consultant teams.

‘The future of urban futuring.’

This is the tagline greeting you when you visit betterstreets.ai – a simple, no-frills landing page that gets straight to the point. What founder and artist Zach Katz instead wants you to focus on is what he’s offering; a unique window into a world no longer burdened by clogged-up road networks, dangerous pedestrian footpaths and unsightly roadworks.

We held our first Active Travel Webinar in June, in which a key conversation topic was centred around ‘the battle for road space’.  From this, it was suggested by our panellists that the UK’s archaic road network was not fit for purpose to yet promote modal shift.

Moving forward with Active Travel – Copper Consultancy


Fans of the television show Westworld will know that Season 4 has reimagined New York City as an almost car-free city, apart from a few autonomous vehicles. The show sees characters walking through quiet pedestrianised streets dotted with plazas, green spaces and an abundance of outdoor seating; a complete juxtaposition of the New York we all know today. This high-budget, polished CGI is captivating, but what do you do when you don’t have a multi-million dollar HBO budget? And what if you want to see the same, but in Slough?

Better Streets has brilliantly highlighted the potential of our existing streets.

The AI software uses text inputs to create a unique image, transforming any traffic-laden street into a bustling pedestrian walkway, a cycle-led active travel route or a grassy tram route in seconds.

The renders aren’t perfect, but they are igniting people’s imagination and, perhaps most importantly, getting more and more people talking about the alternatives to our current travel network. As we look to further embrace multi-modal transport systems in our towns and cities, a simple and relatively cheap piece of technology such as this could be the spark needed.

Copper understands the power that visualisation can have on audiences, enabling them to engage with complex infrastructure projects and understand exactly how it may affect them. This, in turn, enables us to have honest and open conversations. We can work with you to produce animations, renders and other visual-based engagement activities to enhance your project or programme of improvements.

As Katz says: “visualising things is the most powerful way to effect change”.


Transport for the North is refreshing the Strategic Transport Plan, which was published in 2019, setting out the investment needed to transform the lives of people in the North and level up the country. Even though the North is home to over 15 million people and 1.1 million businesses, the region’s overall productivity still trails behind the UK average.

The Strategic Transport Plan sets out a bold vision for connecting people to jobs, health, education and leisure opportunities – all of which are fundamental aspects of life. To rebalance decades of underinvestment and transform the North, the plan identifies different modes which require coordinated investment, such as rail, roads, smart travel and sustainable transport. Transport for the North is also working on developing a new Analytical Framework that will be able to model future economic impacts based on various scenarios, alongside planning for more tight-knit relationships with the North’s Local Transport Authorities (LTAs).

A key element of the major road network would be to deliver the needs of rural communities, ensuring that the transport networks support access to jobs and education. The Strategic Transport Plan outlines how multimodal strategic investment in new transport infrastructure could support up to £100 billion growth in GVA, which will create an additional 850,000 jobs by 2050.

Copper welcomes Transport for the North’s commitment to sustainable transport, as it is crucial that alongside investment in rail and roads, more is done to encourage behaviour change to increase various forms of active travel. As mentioned in the plan and recently updated policy positions, targeting short trips that could be undertaken by public transport, cycling or walking, and moving people away from driving, is not good only for the environment but also for people’s health. Investing in improved public transport, cycle lanes and walking infrastructure is beneficial to everyone and can also positively impact the footfall in city centres, therefore improving economic growth.

All of this is crucial to achieving the goals set in the document, and should be carefully considered while the plan is being refreshed in a world of changing behaviours and uncertainty. Transport for the North should now consider developing a meaningful and thorough engagement strategy that will enable the body to better understand where the improvements are needed the most to simultaneously boost economic growth and net zero travel.

The body should also consider the most effective way to engage with all levels of local government in a shifting local authority landscape, in light of the recent Levelling Up White Paper devolution proposals. While the plan is about addressing regional connectivity, refreshing the plan will also require proactive and considered contributions by TfN’s member authorities who understand local issues across the region.

The latest Copper Consultancy’s Public Attitudes Research finds that the more an individual knows about infrastructure, the more likely they are to engage with projects. That’s why understanding people is one of the crucial steps to successful engagement – involving both people who will be affected by the changes, as well as those who will benefit the most.

Learn more about TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan and the refreshed work here.

Transport Committee inquiry findings

Today, the Transport Committee has released its mixed inquiry findings into the Integrated Rail Plan, the £96Bn flagship government levelling up policy which set out how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 would be integrated to deliver a network of high speed lines across the Midlands and the North.

While the committee report does welcome the scale of the Government’s promised spending on improving rail in the North and the Midlands, it is also starkly headlined with a critical assessment of how some of the options and the benefits of these were assessed. The report states that,

“A thorough reassessment of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances”.


What is the Integrated Rail Plan?

On the back of the Oakervee review and following a final submission from the National Infrastructure Commission, a new Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North was announced in November 2021. It outlines how to develop and deliver HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Rail Hub, and major Network Rail Projects.

It was presented to Parliament by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who pledged the investment would deliver faster and better journeys to more people across the North and the Midlands.

The views of the Transport for the North (TfN) Board, as one voice for the North, fed into the Integrated Rail Plan. The evidence reflected the ambition and vision of the North for the national rail network.

This work showed the vast capacity and journey time benefits that could be realised, alongside other investment in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan, which is in the process of being refreshed.

The Sub-National Transport Body Midlands Connect also provided evidence from the Midlands region.


What’s next?

With such a strong cross-party call for a review by many in regional political circles and by the committee, the new Prime Minister and their departments will undoubtedly have some tough decisions to make at a time where the North is questioning some of the levelling up policies that have been rolled out.

Just yesterday, a widely circulated report by IPPR North suggested that the gap in public spending between London and the North has doubled.

This coincided with a coordinated newspaper campaign in the region warning the Conservative leadership candidates against turning their back on the North.  Eyes are also firmly on what comes next for the promised £100m study to bring HS2 trains to Leeds, with the West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin describing it as being “left in limbo”.

However, while some wider regional connectivity has been scaled back, there have also been very welcome commitments to the TransPennine Route Upgrade, with spending trebled to £9bn to deliver more comprehensive East – West electrification between Manchester and York.

Despite the large investments needed to replace our Victorian infrastructure, it is clear that there is still huge support for rail spending in turbulent times.

With both Conservative leadership candidates pledging commitments to spur on new economic growth and with the ongoing need to tackle climate change, the North’s and Midlands’ rail plans could be a good place to start.

If you want to talk to us about how we can help with your infrastructure communications, then please get in contact with James Jordan.