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How PAS 2080 can speed up the construction industry’s progress to net zero

06 June 2023

Arup’s Heleni Pantelidou explains that this carbon management standard will require an industry-wide step change in thinking.

How PAS 2080 can speed up the construction industry’s progress to net zero
In the PAS 2080 revision we elevated the importance of nature-based-solutions. Image credit: Shutterstock

We’re living through a climate emergency – one which everyone in society must address.

None more so than those working in the built environment, with buildings, transport, and major infrastructure responsible for almost 80% of the global annual carbon footprint.

Despite best efforts and international commitments, the annual trend continues to increase.

Luckily, industry actors throughout the interconnected built environment and infrastructure sector can address the severe situation we’re facing - if they act collectively.

The recent revision of PAS2080 give us the framework for solutions to implement now.

Reducing whole life carbon

With this goal in mind, the British Standards Institute (BSI) published the world’s first standard for managing carbon in 2016 - PAS 2080.

PAS 2080 provides a consistent framework for the industry to reduce its whole life carbon.

This considered the role that the whole value chain has to play and aimed to reduce carbon and cost through intelligent planning, design, construction, operation and use.

However, the decarbonisation progress since 2016 has been slow and siloed and had to be accelerated if the world was to meet its net zero carbon commitment.

Revising the standard

It became apparent that the standard had to be revised to align with the international Paris agreement, with increased urgency, and a call for collective action across the industry.

As a technical author, I believe that the renewed emphasis on systems-thinking decarbonisation is a step change that can unify efforts towards the common goal of creating a sustainable future.

In this revision, we have outlined six key themes that must guide this acceleration:

1. An integrated approach to the built environment

The decarbonisation principles apply equally to buildings and infrastructure.

We worked hard to align the whole life carbon vocabulary that embraces both and, for the first time, addresses the interaction between them.

2. Systems thinking decarbonisation

Buildings and infrastructure don’t exist in isolation – they are part of the wider built environment system and depend on one another to be fit for purpose and successfully decarbonise.

The carbon impact across the whole life of the system must be considered if we want to ensure the built environment is helping us to achieve our net zero ambitions.

3. Net zero carbon transition

There’s a spread of net zero carbon definitions, which causes confusion in the industry and risks watering down action.

We strived to provide a single definition that’s relevant at systems-level and to which the carbon baselines and targets of individual projects can be related to.

We recognise this may be unfamiliar for most but are keen for this much needed joined-up thinking for all sectors.

4. Taking a whole-life view

We strengthened the emphasis on whole life.

It's no longer optional to balance the capital cost and carbon investment with a much bigger operational and user carbon reduction that adds up to net zero.

5. Nature-based solutions

The ‘net’ part of net zero wasn‘t being addressed in the built environment decarbonisation thinking.

As such, we elevated the importance of nature-based-solutions to solve traditional hard engineering problems and, at the same time, separate and store carbon while regenerating nature.

Prioritising nature also complements our other important addition of integrating climate resilience in the carbon management process.

6. Collaboration

The decarbonisation task is daunting. Working together and breaking our silos is the only way of making change happen.

We strengthened the importance of collaboration across the complex value chain, including asset owners, designers, constructors, operators, suppliers, regulators and financiers.

A systems approach places more emphasis on the ability of different value chain members to influence interventions outside their immediate control.

Implementing a step change in thinking

PAS 2080 demands of our industry an urgent step change in thinking and disruption to our current ways of working.

Our approach to decarbonisation must now involve a faster change of direction.

Cross-industry collaboration is imperative if we’re to meet the UK’s legally binding carbon budget and cut emissions by 78% by 2035.

To achieve this unprecedented rate of decarbonisation, all industry actors must embrace an era of change.

Only by overhauling entire schools of thought and behavioural norms related to our use of built environment assets can we meet the world’s most ambitious climate change target.

We must work together

The siloed approach of the past won’t deliver the carbon reductions we need in the limited time we have available.

We must use PAS 2080 not just to reduce the carbon impact of the construction of our projects, but to construct the projects that help society change its carbon-excessive behaviours.

For example:

  • make public and active travel the default commuter option;
  • stop urban sprawl and spare land for nature to thrive and protect us from the changing climate; and
  • make circular use of our dwindling resources, construction materials, water and energy.

Consistent frameworks, such as PAS 2080, will be vital to achieve this goal.

It’s been brilliant to see major players in our industry taking a proactive approach to support the development of the PAS, recognising that it’s a critical step in achieving our net zero carbon ambitions.

Working together in this way must continue if our sector is to play its part in solving the climate crisis.

Learn more about PAS 2080

The construction industry must disrupt its approach and embrace the updated PAS 2080 framework if decarbonisation goals are to be met.

Find out more
  • Dr Heleni Pantelidou, associate director at Arup