Climate Change infrastructure

The Cost of Carbon

In this episode I discuss the cost of carbon with Dr Katherine Ibbotson (listen here), programme carbon and cost manager at the Environment Agency. Kat incorporates carbon cost estimating into the decision-making process, and has worked nationally with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Institute of Civil Engineers on the topic of carbon estimating.

“Carbon is part of everyone’s job now.. We can’t say it it someone else’s job anymore.”

Dr Katherine Ibbotson

Kat’s research aligns traditional cost and carbon estimating. Through action research she has investigated how the UK public sector prioritises carbon reduction, facilitating that through a whole life cost estimating tool. This includes the impact on the organisation, and systems around carbon cost – and understanding the maturing journey towards embedding carbon cost in decision-making.

What do you mean when you talk about carbon cost?

The same way the infrastructure carbon group look at carbon cost. Traditional cost is embedded within organisations, but carbon is less mature. There are mutual benefits in carbon and cost reduction – to evidence it well, we need to bring these together – how we bring these together – methodologies, data alignment, and by being systematic. But this is not straightforward

The EA have brought this together at an asset level – cost and carbon have been brought together using a whole life cost tool with the plan to mature these over time. Through one input – i.e. what we are trying to price – we get two outputs – cost and carbon, which we can use to inform decisions. At the moment we have cost, and then at a separate point in time we calculate carbon, but this happens later, when decisions might have already been made.

“We need to understand how carbon is quantified, how it is allocated, and how it can be affected and influenced through our decisions.”

Dr Katherine ibbotson

The EA have a key function in protecting people from flooding and climate change. In order to not be part of the problem, the EA look at natural flood management and passive design as potential solutions. When creating an asset we consider constructing and deconstructing for the future. Using modern methods of construction, we can plan for 50 years time, so that we don’t need to demolish, we can deconstruct and upgrade.

The EA also consider the wider decarbonisation of the supply chain – the process of creating the materials used – e.g. are the materials recycled, were they created using renewable energy, etc. On site, do we systematically use hybrid tools, etc.

Sources of Carbon Cost Data

We have mature cost data and systems – but carbon has fewer data sources. Cost has continued update and maturity of data, with carbon we don’t have the same cycle.

Some carbon data sources include:

Green house gas emissions factors – Link

Circular Ecology carbon database – Link

CESSM 4 carbon and price data book – Link

PAS 2080 – carbon management in infrastructure – Link

Circular Ecology try to keep data live – as an important source of carbon data for materials. But for whole life costing, we need wider system thinking.

Carbon hotspots need to be identified – carbon methodology, materials, transport, etc. Material is fairly straight forward with this, but we still need to understand the source of the material and the end of life of the material.

There is a current gap with how the information within the wider system of infrastructure about how the carbon data is updated. Product manufacturers don’t publish the data regularly, so we are slightly behind in construction compared with product design and the food industry. The information is not consistent – construction and industry as a whole need to update the information consistently.

Skills of the Carbon Cost Estimator

RICS, ICE, RIBA are looking at what their membership need to do for climate change and carbon reduction. The EA look for estimators with a knowledge of carbon. Essentially bringing two roles into one. Having someone who provides cost and carbon information to the project team allows everyone to upskill and strengthen the wider service by providing that physical and carbon cost. More training is required in the education system. The EA want carbon cost estimators in one function, there are very few in industry.

More information about the Carbon Cost Tool

Institution of Civil Engineers article on Embodied Carbon: Link

Request more about the Environment Agency’s carbon cost tool ERIC by email:

Kat’s LinkedIn profile: Link

Kat’s ResearchGate profile: Link

Checkout the website for the latest blog:

Follow the podcast on Twitter @costofpodcast

Join the LinkedIn page: Link

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