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Shaping Zero - What are you going to do?

17 December 2020

In her debut blog, ICE President Rachel Skinner follows up on the huge debate and positive response sparked by her Shaping Zero film, launched at the end of 2020. Here she outlines the next steps we need to take to achieve net-zero by 2050.

Shaping Zero - What are you going to do?
ICE President Rachel Skinner

What a whirlwind these recent weeks have been! Since you saw my Shaping Zero inaugural address and film, I’ve been busy sharing its key carbon message at dozens of events, including a United Nations ‘Race to Zero’ COP26 dialogue, keynotes such as the launch of our Brunel International Lecture series and the annual symposium held by our partners, the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure, and at many other senior industry and government round tables.

I’ve also been out and virtually about in Scotland and Northern Ireland where I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of ICE members over the past two weeks.

Thank you!

Before I go any further, I owe a “thank you” to many of you.

First, thank you for shattering all ICE event records when you joined, in your thousands, my live Shaping Zero address and the recorded versions that are now available online have been viewed over 6,000 times. (If you missed it, you can catch up with the Shaping Zero film here or my full address, here.

But beyond that, thank you to the many hundreds of you who took the time to share the most incredible feedback on the film and its core messages; I have been literally deluged with positive feedback and offers of support since it launched last month.

Most importantly, though, thank you to those of you who listened and have now started to share some serious ideas in response to my big question: “What are you going to do?”

What’s next for Shaping Zero?

All of you who have watched the Shaping Zero film will know that my focus is on net zero carbon – and specifically the opportunity and urgent need for civil engineers across the world to reduce the billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that relate directly to the design, build and long-term use of our infrastructure.

This has already sparked huge appetite for change across the ICE community – alongside a new appreciation of the scale and speed of action needed, and our enormous potential to shape the future in this area.

When we say “we must achieve net zero carbon”, what do we really mean?

Many of us hear the phrase ‘net zero carbon’ (or ‘net-zero’ for short) but have you stopped to think about what it really means? Or how you might help to achieve it? If not, how do you know if you’re helping or making things worse?

In the simplest possible terms, net zero is about finding a balancing point or equilibrium for carbon emissions. In my Shaping Zero film, I use a simple bath analogy to explain the concept. Net zero is the point where the water level in the bath stays the same, so where the carbon emissions going into the atmosphere (represented by the tap) are balanced by the removal of the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere (the plughole or drain).

It is really important to realise that net zero does not mean that we must have absolutely no carbon emissions. Instead, it is all about balance and understanding the impacts of what we do.

We have heard you, loud and clear – and I am delighted to announce that the ICE is now gearing up to launch ‘Shaping Zero’ as a funded programme for my Presidential Year and beyond. All of this fits very neatly with the ongoing work of The Carbon Project, already launched by the ICE in July 2020, and the ICE’s top strategic priority to decarbonise our industry.

We need to make sure that far more of us have grasped the core concepts that are so crucial to civil engineering and climate change.

Rachel Skinner

We need to make sure that far more of us have grasped the core concepts that are so crucial to civil engineering and climate change.

Rachel Skinner

My goals for Shaping Zero as we head into 2021 are simple: we need to do some carbon myth-busting, we need to make sure that far more of us have grasped the core concepts that are so crucial to civil engineering and climate change, and we need to get much better at collaborating and sharing examples of good practice so that we can all learn fast. To do this, I would like to ask for your help:

  • Do you (or others around you) have carbon-related questions or concepts where you’d welcome more clarity? Please reply to this message via email or engage via LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram and including the hashtag #ShapingZero so we can start to gather your thoughts and suggestions
  • Do you know of exemplar projects that we could showcase in 2021? From January, we will be calling for inspirational projects and programmes - small or large - where conscious efforts are underway to cut carbon. These can be at any stage: strategy, concept, design, construction or already in operation.

    They can also be at any scale as I am keen to showcase good practice from the very smallest project to the largest programme or system. There’s just one catch: there has to be some form of measurement attached (even if very simple or from first principles) so we can understand the planned and/or actual benefit to carbon emissions.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and for your support so far. I’d welcome your feedback and ideas.

Rachel Skinner Signature

Rachel Skinner

Coming up next time

  • What’s the crucial link between infrastructure, net zero carbon and climate change?

  • Read Rachel's previous blog on achieving net-zero.

  • Read up on the ICE Presidential Breakfast roundup as Rachel leads the discussion on the Construction Playbook.

  • Rachel Skinner, chair at Infrastructure Client Group - Task Group