Meaningful measurement for whole-life carbon in infrastructure: a report from The Carbon Project

Some 70% of carbon emissions worldwide can be linked to infrastructure. Civil engineers, as the designers, builders and maintainers of this infrastructure, have a duty to minimise the harmful impacts on our climate by understanding and reducing the whole-life carbon in infrastructure.

Measuring, sharing and benchmarking of carbon impacts – covering all stages of the infrastructure lifecycle – is integral to facilitating carbon management as a routine aspect of infrastructure design. This paper, which has been devised and produced by a panel of industry experts as part of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ The Carbon Project, seeks to demonstrate to designers of our infrastructure assets a consistent methodology for how they can successfully measure, share and benchmark carbon impacts.

How to use this document

This paper is divided into three chapters:

    • Chapter 1 highlights the challenges engineers can face in achieving accurate carbon data capture.
    • Chapter 2 examines how carbon benchmarks could be better used in infrastructure.
    • Chapter 3 provides a consistent methodology and reporting protocol for use across the project lifecycle.

This report draws together three areas of carbon emission measurement that are in urgent need of improvement and consistent methodology. Within the theme of measuring and monitoring, recommendations have been made about key considerations, areas for action and best practice. In addition, the report offers insight into initiatives and reports that have been steered by the recommendations in this paper.

The recommendations set out in this paper are critically important as they advise on how to effectively facilitate carbon management as a routine aspect of infrastructure design. Key takeaways from each of the three chapters can be identified as:

The challenges of achieving accurate cradle-to-grave carbon data capture, measuring and reporting

The infrastructure industry needs to take action to significantly improve its use of data for consistent and transparent whole-life carbon reporting. These actions include, but are not limited to, behavioural change (considering data earlier and handing it over appropriately throughout the lifecycle) and considering design and construction alterations from a whole-life carbon impact perspective. The industry should set guidelines for the types, structure and shareability of data to establish baselines and clear and consistent reporting.

Comparing carbon data against reliable benchmarks

Effective whole-life carbon management of infrastructure can be accelerated through the development, sharing and use of benchmarks, which provide a point of reference. The industry must accelerate the production of openly available asset-level benchmarks for whole-life carbon data. The recommendations in this report by The Carbon Project have informed two key external initiatives: the IPA Best Practice in Benchmarking report update and the Built Environment Carbon Database.

Consistent methodology and reporting protocol across the project lifecycle

This chapter provides a capital carbon reporting protocol that can be utilised by the industry to objectively report carbon reduction progress. The methodology encourages consistent reporting of project whole-life emissions using lifecycle stages. The adoption of this protocol will also enable carbon reductions to be collated to determine the infrastructure sector’s contribution to delivering the national net zero target.

Meaningful measurement for whole-life carbon in infrastructure

Content type: Information

Last updated: 14/04/2022

Author: ICE

Download file.

This article was originally published by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and can be found here.