Designers’ views on delivering lower carbon outcomes under PAS2080

The climate crisis is the defining challenge for our generation, and as engineers we have a pivotal role to play in addressing the issue.

PAS2080:2023 Carbon Management in Buildings and Infrastructure (PAS2080) has been recognised across industry as a key tool to delivering decarbonisation. The recent ICE State of the Nation: Infrastructure in 2024 report notes:

Carbon management must become mainstream practice for ICE members.”… “It is the ICE’s view that the consistent application of the principles of PAS 2080:2023 across the institution’s civil engineering community and professional practice will help to deliver national net-zero policies around the world.

Tony Gee hosted a roundtable session at Interchange in Manchester in March. The session was for designers to discuss the actions we can take together to accelerate decarbonisation of infrastructure using PAS2080. In the context of the climate emergency, and the need to act quickly, we wanted to find the parts of the carbon management process where we can put competition to one side and work together. Ultimately, we want to free up our time and creativity to focus on the parts that will really make the difference in reaching Net Zero.
The round table had great collection of industry leaders in this space, with participants from across the design sector; large, medium and small organisations, and individuals who represented their personal, organisational and also sector interest group views.

A summary of the discussion and its findings can be found below and we have also produced a more depth report. If we want meaningful change to happen, we need to keep these conversations going, so we are planning more discussion group building on from our initial findings.

If you would like to be part of the discussion group, please contact Natalie Cropp.

Where is the industry at?

We looked at the maturity of the industry to deliver the different aspects of PAS2080 with a view to teasing out some of the key issues and the things we can do to address them. We categorised each part of the carbon management process against a maturity score illustrating the stark reality that there is a lot of the process that is still emerging in practice, and very little that is commonplace or standard yet.

Some of the key issues that we discussed were:

  • Biodiversity net gain requirements will help to drive the use of nature-based solutions, but we still have a long way to go for these to be routinely integrated into projects.
  • We see differences in approaches to whole life carbon assessments and very little sharing of carbon data across infrastructure projects to inform baselines and targets.
  • Baselines and targets were a hot topic; how do we use them consistently, how do we ensure the baseline is fair, how do we tie them to Net Zero trajectories, do we even need a single target?
  • Designers have a role to play in sharing successes across clients; our experience is showing it is a no risk strategy with cost and carbon savings achieved for the projects using PAS2080.
  • We still need a cultural shift in behaviours around practically delivering carbon management in projects with the same attention we give to cost, programme and risk.

Whilst there are a lot of questions and challenges in this space still, there are some great examples of what can be achieved; be it driven by the clients’ commitment or the designers deciding to simply “just do it”.

What do we need next?

To really progress in delivering decarbonisation using PAS2080 we need to be able to move aspects of the process from the novel and emerging towards standard practice. We discussed the tangible things that need to happen but also the facilitating mechanisms we can use to drive this agenda forward.

We came up with four key actions we can take:

  1. Just do it – put carbon in our standard design practices
  2. Value for carbon not value for money – move the conversation to the broader benefits and outcomes for our projects
  3. Share data – share the as built carbon data we all need to build meaningful baselines and targets; through existing initiatives or new ones
  4. Build client buy in – Sell the opportunities; focussing on carbon saves cost, it supports funding opportunities and helps clients to meet their own ESG and net zero obligations.

To help us drive this conversation forward we identified that using existing forums offers opportunities for the designer community to own our role in decarbonisation and collaborate on meaningful actions.

In the project space we identified the need for the holistic decision maker – someone that can keep carbon in the conversation alongside risk, cost and programme as well as the other outcomes that need to be balanced. In major projects the Design Champion could be this person, in smaller schemes, we can raise the skills and role of our own Project Managers.

Read the PAS2080 Report here