Jane Anderson, Life Cycle Assessment Practitioner and a member of the Live Labs 2 Commissioning Board, talks about the recent Live Labs 2 Carbon Plenary event.
The significance of Live Labs 2 was underscored by its inclusion in recent publication of the Plan for Drivers and the Future Transport Rural Strategy by the Department for Transport, shaping the narrative in the transportation arena. The UK’s local roads infrastructure and maintenance make a significant and ongoing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change impacts and future resilience.
From the very outset, Live Labs 2 set a high bar in terms of how the programme will remove and reduce carbon from the local highways network and evidence those changes. However, measuring carbon for ongoing infrastructure activities is an emerging field and there has not been clear consensus on approaches used.
We initially thought the different projects would all take different approaches to measuring carbon. However, throughout the applications process, right through to the deployment phase, what become apparent is that there are many synergies between how the different Live Labs were intending to measure carbon. It also highlighted a number of differences in their approach.
In order to measure our success across the Live Labs 2 projects and the programme overall, we need an agreed, consistent approach. We want to adopt a more standardised approach that might be able to accelerate how we measure and reduce carbon across industry. One of the key elements of the Live Labs 2 programme is to share our learnings, so it is important at the outset to set out how we are working together as a sector to explore this issue.
Live Labs 2 – Carbon Plenary event
To address this, we recently held a Carbon Plenary event, bringing together all the live lab projects to compare approaches, data sources, and challenges, with the aim of fostering shared learning.
In September 2023, 43 people from the seven Live Labs 2 projects, along with the central programme team, Commissioning Board, industrial partners and academia, attended the event, which explored how to measure carbon within the programme.
We wanted to use the different approaches to stimulate conversations and develop common understanding.
The event kicked off with each of the live labs giving a presentation on their approach to carbon measurement (published here). This was followed by a plenary discussion, which was structured using four questions:
- What overlaps are there in methodologies?
- Are there any efficiencies we can gain?
- What overlaps are there in carbon data sources?
- How do we maintain the highest quality bar?
From this, we were able to have a detailed conversation on data sources, looking at how we are working, discussing challenges, and identifying opportunities for standardisation.
Carbon measurement – key observations
My key observations from the plenary were as follows:
- Consistency is key: One significant development from the event was the emphasis on the use of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) as a carbon data source. EPDs provide independently verified data on the carbon impacts of construction products over their life cycle. While not all projects committed to using EPDs, it was a common thread, signalling a move toward a robust and consistent method based on reliable data.
- Quality of data: Most of the projects are intending to use EPDs, however all EPDs are not the same. For example, some are sector specific, others cover the average product from a manufacturer, and others are product specific. The Carbon Plenary highlighted the importance of not just the quality but the granularity of data. Understanding how well data represents the actual products ensures trust and facilitates meaningful comparisons.
- Openness and camaraderie: The spirit of openness and the camaraderie among participants were refreshing. The energy in the room and the willingness to learn and share insights set a positive tone for future collaboration.
It became apparent that despite the initial impression of diverse approaches, there was more common ground than expected. The industry is moving fast, and the need to converge toward a standardised approach was a recurring theme.
During the event, I highlighted the work of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in updating their methodology for assessing the whole life carbon of the built environment, addressing infrastructure assets as well as buildings and using the Standards EN 17472 and EN 15978 as its basis. Financed by the Department of Transport, this methodology aligns well with the Live Labs objectives, with all projects referring to its common structure of life cycle stages.
Next steps for carbon measurement
As the seven Live Labs proceed with baselining, the focus is on harmonising approaches and sharing learnings. The idea of a consistent approach to measuring carbon across the industry is gaining momentum.
In navigating the carbon landscape, Live Labs 2 aims to lead the way in transparency, consistency and collaboration. We understand the importance of providing information in a way that is not only robust, but also easily understandable for diverse stakeholders.
The plenary event has laid the groundwork for further collaboration and the outcomes will be shared with the wider community.
For more information on ADEPT Live Labs 2: Decarbonising Local Roads in the UK, please look at the Live Labs 2 section on the website.
More information on each Live Lab's approach to carbon measurement available below:
- Devon County Council
- East Riding of Yorkshire Council
- Greenprint (South Gloucestershire Council and West Sussex County Council)
- Liverpool City Council
- North Lanarkshire Council
- Transport for West Midlands
- Wessex (Cornwall Council, Hampshire County Council and Somerset Council)
- Future Highways Research Group - Live Labs 2 carbon assessments
- Find out more about Jane Anderson here.