The CITT research project starts from the need to solve two key problems facing the construction industry presently: the ever more pressing need to reduce GHG emissions, and the highly fragmented nature of supply chains within the sector. The project seeks to develop and implement a tool to aid the alignment of supply chain actors through efficient design of incentives and the articulation of key carbon management challenges. The tool itself will demonstrate the embodied carbon and cost impact of each material element used in the creation of an infrastructure asset (identified through the bill of quantities), and will help to drive emission reductions by identifying opportunities to reduce carbon through innovation and supply chain engagement.
Q: What is the Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool (CITT) project about?
A: The Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Tool project is essentially about reducing emissions in the infrastructure sector, and more specifically it’s about developing an embodied carbon calculator for quantifying emissions. It’s also a series of research work packages that complement or relate to the development of the tool in some way.
Q: What role has UEBS had in the project?
A: The role of the University of Edinburgh Business School has been to lead on the research component of the project, and we’ve worked together with our industry partner Costain Group who’ve led on the development of the carbon calculator.
Q: Who is the target group for this report and study?
A: The main target group for this study and the report is really the construction sector as a whole, and that includes everyone from clients, including government, down to contractors and suppliers and the people who produce low-carbon materials within the sector.
Q: What are your main findings in the study?
A: In terms of the findings from the research there are a number of detailed findings from each of the research work packages. But to give a single or overarching finding, it’s essentially that collaboration is essential in order to reduce emissions within the sector. And another key theme or finding is that the client should ultimately demand reductions in emissions within infrastructure projects.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you with your findings?
A: One interesting finding from the research was from the uncertainty analysis that was undertaken. And we found that, with decisions that reduce GHG emissions they also reduce the amount of uncertainty in terms of the range of GHG outcomes from the development of an infrastructure project. And that’s slightly surprising because in other contexts, such as in financial markets, when you pick a stock that has a high return often it also has high volatility or uncertainty. In contrast,what we’re seeing with emission reduction decision making is that as well as reducing carbon you also reduce uncertainty.
Q: Is there a risk of “burden shifting” from embodied carbon calculation tools? What are you recommendations for solutions?
A: Burden shifting occurs when a decision might reduce emissions in one part of an asset’s life cycle, perhaps in the embodied carbon phase, but then increase emissions somewhere else in the life cycle, for example in the use phase or the end of life disposal phase. We found that there were instances where the use of the CIT tool could lead to burden shifting, and so we developed a number of very simple heuristics to help to identify and manage that situation. Also, we ultimately give the recommendation that the future development of carbon calculators should really try to look at whole-of-life greenhouse gas impacts. And even moving beyond that, calculators should also try to include what’s called ‘consequential’ life cycle assessment as well.
Q: What social and institutional barriers have you seen to the adoption of carbon calculator tools? And what solutions are there?
A: One part of the research looked at potential social and institutional barriers to the adoption of the tool and also to the adoption of carbon management practices more generally. That research identified a very large number of different barriers or constraints and to help organize and analyze those issues we divided them up into what we call internal constraints, which were constraints that could be controlled by the organization in question, and external constraints, which were outside the control of the organization. A third category was constraints that could be managed or need to be jointly managed by the organization and also external parties.
And so, for example, an internal constraint was the way in which, in many organizations, carbon is dealt with by a dedicated team, perhaps a carbon team or a sustainability team, but it isn’t mainstreamed in the organization. And one of the solutions that we identified for that was leadership within the organization. So, leadership is needed in order to mainstream these carbon management activities. And again, an example of an external constraint was the need for the client to really take ownership and drive and demand carbon reductions when they commission the development of an infrastructure asset.
Q: What challenges and opportunities do you see related to supply chain collaboration?
A: We also looked specifically at collaboration, and we looked at some of the challenges and solutions to enhance collaboration. The study that we undertook looked at a whole number of case studies of collaboration and identified a number of success factors. These included things like information sharing, strong leadership and also shared incentive mechanisms. One of the things that that piece of research highlighted as a way of achieving and ensuring the success factors, was to develop a new kind of model for managing infrastructure projects. So instead of having a design-bid-built linear model, the research suggests that one solution is to have a very client focused approach, where the client takes a key role in working with contractors and suppliers throughout the delivery of the infrastructure asset. That role can involve a number of different things such as information sharing and education. But also looking at ways of financially incentivizing low carbon behavior.
Q: What are your recommendations regarding uncertainty analysis in relation to usage of carbon calculator tools?
A: With regards to uncertainty analysis, what the research shows is that uncertainty analysis does give you a lot more information about the likely emissions outcomes from infrastructure projects. It’s vitally important to understand whether a change in material use is just something that’s within the margin of error of the emissions factors or whether it’s a real reduction in emissions. Our key recommendation from that work package is that future generations of carbon calculators should look to include uncertainty analysis rather than just single point estimates.
Q: If you were about to take a next step based on this study, in which direction would it be?
A: The next step from this study I think is to move on to implementation, and that’s really now over to the industry, and particularly clients to focus on demanding low-carbon infrastructure assets.
Q: The project team has consisted of a combination of competencies from both academic institutions and the industry. What is your experience of a set-up like this and the combination of work packages?
A: The project team has consisted of academics, from a number of different disciplinary backgrounds, and our industry partners. And that’s given us a whole range of perspectives on the issues of carbon management within infrastructure. Working with an industry partner has brought huge benefits in terms of access to data and personnel, and also a richness of understanding of the key issues in the industry which we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Q: Are there any other findings or something else that you would like to share?
A: One final comment on the nature of the study and the findings we’ve had is that the funder, which was the Construction Climate Challenge, which is hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment, played quite an active role in terms of asking questions and providing suggestions throughout the research. In a way they took the kind of client role that we identified as a very important one, in terms of managing infrastructure projects, and they applied that role to managing this research project. That was very valuable in terms of teasing out new insights and finding other collaborations that would benefit the project.