November 2022

Angela Pllu, Environment & Sustainability Manager

After a pause onsite – and in this online diary - following the completion of the advanced works, we’re now back onsite and ready to get our teeth into the next phase. Watch our latest video outlining some of the low carbon approaches we brought in during advanced works that we’ll now be building on.

Back onsite

During the preliminary work we did to reduce the carbon emissions on this scheme during the advanced works and the planning for this next phase, we distilled five principles which are helping us get under the skin of how to take this approach more consistently across all of our schemes. Our aim is to create a best practice blueprint that we can strengthen and add to with everything we learn – both the things that work and also those that didn’t work.  

These five principles are:

Cross-functional collaboration

This is essential, particularly at the design stage to ensure that options can be accurately costed. Customers need to be able to plan for net zero funding, and designers and contractors need to work together to allow design options to be costed and discussed with the supply chain. Capital provision must be delivered at the start and planned for as part of the process.

At the moment, our collaborative efforts are focused on reusing the glass that will be removed from the iconic Victorian Palm house. While glass is an easy product to recycle and reuse (and is currently in high demand) we are keen to use the palm house glass which is so critical to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to demonstrate local scale circular economy. We are working with our supply chain, glass specialists, research facilities and concrete producers to see if we can reuse the glass for something that would be a useful addition to the project or the wider Royal Botanic Garden. We will keep you updated on the options we have looked at and what the final outcome is.

Design for deconstruction

While this is not the way the construction sector currently operates, we know that we need to accelerate progress towards it as our goal, so that’s what we’re doing on this scheme. Design for deconstruction is about looking at each material being used, right from the design stage, to maximise the amount that can be re-used so that when it comes to replacing the parts of a building that have a shorter use life than that of the building (such as heat pumps and boiler systems) it can be done effectively and efficiently.

We’re putting a lot of effort in to developing better, more efficient working relations between our customers, design teams and M&E supply chain - including working in collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland - to embed circular economy principles at all levels of design. We’re trialling this approach on our Fife College Net Zero Carbon pathfinder project, exploring options around the servitisation of lighting, for example.  Servitisation is where customers pay for a service - such as lighting - rather than buying and owning the equipment themselves. Although energy-efficient technologies are available and their long-term economic benefits are clear, there are several barriers that prevent these from being deployed, including high up-front costs. The servitisation business model overcomes this barrier by representing an effective way to accelerate the investments in energy-efficiency needed to deliver the Paris Agreement goals for achieving a low-carbon economy. It also encourages design for deconstruction, with the supply chain maintaining the equipment to the highest standard and taking back items for refurbishment or reuse.  

Think outside the box

From finding ways to use solar power in onsite toilets to working with regulators to make rules for using topsoil more flexible, every element of the scheme needs to be examined for ways to reduce carbon emissions and everyone involved needs to be bought in, which is where the upskilling of the workforce we spoke about in our March diary entry comes in. This is something that will remain a key focus for us going forward as it’s so critical to reducing our carbon emissions, both in terms of our workforce understanding what we’re trying to achieve and why and what their own role is in that, but also in getting sites to use some of the innovations we’re rolling out rather than relying on the tried-and-tested solutions. What we have also learnt is that it isn’t all about new technology – the biggest gains can actually be made through behaviour change. Just taking one example, the impact an operator can have if they are displaying the right behaviours can far outweigh the 15% efficiency a manufacturer might advertise – we need to invest more time and effort in training operators in how to use the assets more efficiently and in thinking about the actual amount of time the machines are working.

We’re embedding these learnings across our business in a number of ways, including updates to our central sustainable products and systems directory - which aims to cascade knowledge across the breadth of the business. New approaches include minimising our volume of excavated material to maximise the amount that can be reused rather than sent to waste - and where methods aren’t right for a project, by including them in our directory others may find a use for them and can see what’s already been tested - taking the fear and time out of adopting new methods and leaving more time to focus on delivery. And we’re using communications and plant telematics data to drive behaviour change on things like leaving machines idling, and rolling out light sensors and automated water taps to support those individual behaviour changes.

Supply Chain

The wider supply-chain environment is increasingly volatile which is having a big impact on cost. Particular shortages remain in the provision of zero-emission plant, which still in most cases has a higher upfront cost than traditional supply methods. We are bringing our purchasing power to bear to secure the latest kit as soon as it is commercially viable - which will, in turn, lower the price for the rest of industry. We’re also investing time in trialling new ways of mapping our supply chain to better identify resilience and climate change risks, with the support of Insight Futures and Zero Waste Scotland. We’ve also developed a three-stage pathway to help move those of our supply chain partners who need support with decarbonisation up to the top level, where we have regular sessions to work collaboratively at an early stage to overcome the barriers to delivering some of the net zero solutions onsite.

Electricity capacity

As we transition to new technologies, electricity capacity will increasingly become a limiting factor unless it’s carefully planned for and managed. Construction sites need to plan strategically to ensure grid capacity is sufficient, and to assess at a build level to assess whether, in the light of the broader state of the energy market, increasing micro-generation capacity on sites is the best way to drive cost-effective decarbonisation for end users.

This is already an issue for this project where we have a finite electrical connection currently available, and it isn’t big enough to support the large energy requirements associated with some of the plant and equipment we need to deliver this project. Our current challenge is providing sufficient power for the grit blasters which will be used to remove the lead paint from the Victorian Palm House. We don’t have sufficient capacity to provide a mains electrical set up for this plant so have been looking at alternatives including micro-wind power, hydrogen generators and hybrid generators. Our optioneering is just about complete and we will share the learnings form this in our next diary entry. Technology including EcoNet, solar-hybrid welfare units and toilet pods are already online and growing our on-site renewable generation capabilities but challenges like this give us the opportunity to continue to develop and grow our capabilities for net zero power solutions onsite.

If you have observations or queries on the points outlined in this entry, please contact: Veena.Hudson@balfourbeatty.com.