This article was written by Sam Lonsdale (MEng GMICE) who works for Stantec, one of our partners at Eastern Echo.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, planners and engineers have played a pivotal role in shaping western society, supplying safe new homes, delivering vast transport networks, and, of course, distributing vital resources such as clean drinking water and energy.

Our built environment is, however, responsible for the greatest global emergency of the 21st century. The Climate Crisis.

The message from the recently published IPCC report is categorical – human activity is causing a dangerous shift in our climate, and we need to act now to limit the rise in global temperatures and prevent a global catastrophe.

The Institution of Civil Engineer’s current president, Rachel Skinner, has prioritised this issue above any other in this year’s ICE Presidential address, stating that infrastructure is estimated to contribute 70% of the overall global CO2 emissions.

In the property development sector, we have an important role to play in reducing global CO2 emissions – and without returning society to the dark ages. But how do we do it?

There’s no one-stop solution to solving the global climate crisis – but rather many innovative ideas to consider and small actions to take. Reducing the use of carbon-heavy materials, such as concrete, steel and asphalt is one way that we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Alternative, more sustainable materials are available across the construction sector from timber frame buildings to low carbon concretes, which include the use of cement substitutes such as fly ash and blast furnace slag. As carbon awareness and material technology progress, there will, no doubt, be a wider range of carbon-efficient materials available in the future.

Faced with the urgency of the Climate Crisis, what opportunities do engineers have now to develop more sustainably? In engineering, we can specify more sustainable materials, as well as reducing the quantity of materials used. Efficiencies can be sought by exploiting computer-based design software and by constructing assets with greater accuracy and precision.

To a certain extent, we are limited by the technologies available to us. However, we do have the responsibility to take advantage of available technologies and to evaluate the carbon footprint of our infrastructure, which is essential for reducing carbon emissions.

So, how can we measure the carbon footprint of infrastructure schemes? At Stantec, a colleague of mine led the way on a recent road design scheme in Wiltshire, on which they assessed the carbon footprint of the proposed road development using a publicly available carbon calculation tool. Through this, they evidenced a reduction in carbon emissions by 12 – 15%, achieved by specifying warm mix asphalt instead of the traditionally used hot mix asphalt.

On any given property development project, the best opportunity for reducing CO2 emissions is at the beginning – the strategic level decisions. We must consider the toll the project will take on the environment at the very start and ask questions of any scheme before we begin the design. Should a new 15km road be constructed? How many spaces does this car park require? Is the car park even necessary?

At any level or discipline within the development sector, there are opportunities to reduce carbon emissions. It’s down to us to create and recognise those opportunities and it will be how we choose to deal with them that counts.

Image source- Stantec

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