Clarity, cooperation and confidence - critical elements of a low carbon future

Consultant Atkins is one of four consultants to have signed up the Green Construction Board's Infrastructure Carbon Review which aims to help the industry reduce carbon and make the link with business efficiency.

Chief executive officer, UK and Europe David Tonkin explains why this new tool is so important to the future of his business.

Why is the Infrastructure Carbon Review a critical tool for your business?

We have had a long-standing association with the Low Carbon Construction Innovation & Growth Team and the Infrastructure Working Group. The Working Group’s 2010 report stated that there was three crying needs: for clarity – a clear path towards low carbon; for co-operation – for Government and industry to work together; and for confidence – reassurance that lowering carbon is important to the Government. First and foremost I believe the ICR brings the clarity and a well-defined pathway, which is helping us to better understand and articulate our current position and guide our next steps. It’s also stimulating engagement and co-operation across the value chain which is essential for progress.  Finally the Government’s backing of this initiative give us confidence to continue advancing our Carbon Critical Design programme which we have been developing since 2009.

How have you benefitted from embracing the ICR?

We have, through the Carbon Critical Design programme, been demonstrating for a number of years that we have the inclination and capacity to move towards a low carbon economy. The ICR is helping reinforce that carbon needs to be central to our core businesses strategy. This can been seen in the continuing development of our Carbon Knowledgebase, which is being used to help the value chain to deliver carbon reduction, including on recent projects such as Norton Bridge and the Edinburgh to Glasgow Rail Improvement Programme.  

The Infrastructure Carbon Review One-Year-On conference 

Date: 27 October

Venue: BIS conference centre, Victoria Street, London


To register your interest in attending this free event email

Have you been able to make the link between lower carbon and lower cost?

Yes.  To give a practical example we are leading one of the UK’s first fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) road bridge replacement projects in Frampton Cotterell, near Bristol. FRP is strong, light, resists fatigue and does not corrode and has much lower embodied carbon. FRP corrosion and frost-resisting properties mean maintenance costs and operational carbon could be up to 50 per cent lower compared to steel. 

What steps have you taken to promote the ICR across your business?

We have taken steps to first promote the ICR to professionals in Atkins who have, historically, been involved in the carbon agenda. Our next step is to undertake a broader programme of engagement, with the intention of developing a strategic sustainability pathway. 

How have you engaged your supply chain in the ICR?

We have focused on the low carbon agenda up and down the value chain since 2009. We continue to engage on this issue, an example being the discussions we are having with Network Rail and the Rail Safety and Standards Board to assist them with establishing a rail specific carbon tool for use by the whole of the UK rail industry.  

What do you think are the critical challenges facing the industry as it reaches towards a low carbon future?

The challenges and opportunities we are all facing will come in many shapes and sizes, such as the growing scarcity and price volatility of resources. This will further drive us towards resource efficiency and carbon reduction. Building information modelling (BIM) will enable engineers to predict the capital carbon of projects before they are built and respond to design changes faster. BIM will help facilitate earlier decision making enabling more economic and lower carbon project delivery.

Developing the low carbon skills and expertise has not only made us more competitive in the UK but also presented opportunities to sell our capabilities overseas. In China we played a leading role in developing the Low Carbon Eco-cities Report and recommended an approach to achieve the desired results.  In the Indian cities of Mysore and Madurai we deploy innovative Low Carbon Masterplanning approaches.

What recommendation would you make to others considering following your lead?

Keep the faith. Carbon is rapidly becoming a key competitiveness issue for business and the economy but it’s important to remember that you need to keep momentum going even through more challenging times.