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How do project controls contribute to net zero?

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Net zero is squarely on the project controls agenda, but how do we ensure carbon reduction goals are embedded in programmes?

At AtkinsRéalis, carbon management is central to our integrated project controls services, featuring alongside the time, cost and quality benchmarks for project success.

We start from the position that both embodied and operational carbon must be considered throughout the life cycle of a built asset, not forgetting decommissioning. This should begin at project inception, when there is the greatest chance of making significant impacts, because treating carbon management as an afterthought raises the risk of missing major opportunities to reduce carbon.

One way we’re managing this for clients is by designing and implementing project/programme management offices (PMOs) that incorporate carbon services and net zero measures. We acknowledge that there are differing maturity levels of PMOs, aligning with the net zero goals of the individual client and project/programme.

The maturity levels of net zero PMOs

  • First level: where a PMO is providing some monitoring of emissions measurements, alongside reporting on activities that address net zero.
  • Second level: a self-improving net zero PMO that also makes sustainable choices in its technology and data management, and measures carbon.
  • Third level: a systemic net zero PMO that is dedicated to a net zero programme in its own right. It not only measures, reports and changes organisational culture, but also aims to address net zero expectations that are scaled to the needs of clients and large investments.

The net zero PMO can enable carbon services to be delivered into programmes, ensuring that carbon is visible and a priority alongside schedule, cost and risk. Tools such as Decarbonomics can help organisations to baseline and benchmark their emissions; evaluate interventions and develop decarbonisation roadmaps; create cost and programme-optimised delivery plans; and track performance towards successful decarbonisation.

Why does value engineering so often slash green options?

In practice, however, it’s too easy for green options to be value-engineered out. They typically get removed early on due to the perceived compromises required when using new products. Much of our work focuses on ways to understand schedule and cost impacts and enable clear decision-making around such options.

Capital costs of materials, availability of products and resources, and additional time added to the programme are all considerations when delivering a project to reduce carbon. For example, take high-percentage GGBS concrete. GGBS takes longer to set than regular concrete, resulting in an extra two weeks, or even two months, added to the programme.

Material lead times and availability are another issue. Structural timber, for instance, predominantly comes from mainland Europe and has a lead time of three to six months. Sourcing early, in advance of enabling works, means finding a place to store and maintain the product.

We have therefore devised ‘what if?’ scenarios and a reporting methodology that allows projects to review time, cost and carbon to ensure all are adequately considered during the full life cycle of the project.

Product quality standards and performance criteria should also be investigated prior to using new carbon-reducing construction products. The market has been flooded with new products which may not have undergone sufficiently rigorous testing. Pre-specification analysis should therefore be thorough.

How can we make this work?

There are ways of addressing all these risks and they hinge on early conversations with design teams and contractors — significantly earlier than when using traditional products and methods. The early approach to key decision-making will also help with capital costs.

Many of the greener products are being charged at a premium due to high demand, so early sourcing, when there’s time to consider all alternatives, is imperative. As part of this early-stage analysis, we also need to consider asset maintenance, operational costs and the associated carbon. All of these will allow carbon to be at the forefront of decision-making.

In project controls, we use our expertise in data management, measurement and reporting to help clients consider their options, demonstrating the time, cost, quality and environmental effects of differing levels of sustainable product/methodology use.

This includes comparing and balancing the embodied and operational carbon impacts. We do this via life-cycle cost analysis, programme analysis and working with project teams to reach practical solutions that meet the defined carbon goals.


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