Circular economy thinking could halve UK infrastructure emissions

Using low carbon materials throughout the infrastructure design process could result in carbon reductions of around 50%, according to a research paper.

The AECOM-led Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG) set out how infrastructure is responsible for 16% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. A further 37% is attributable to the materials and energy required to build, maintain and operate the finished projects. As the UK heads towards its 2050 net zero goal, delivering infrastructure in an increasingly carbon-constrained world is a “real concern”, the report said.

It set out a series of pathways, each applying different degrees of the circular economy, resulting in varying levels of carbon reduction potential.

By maximising the use of existing assets, optimising asset operation and management to reduce the extent of new construction required, carbon emissions could fall 80%, while designing in the use of low carbon materials, streamlining delivery processes and minimising resource consumption could result in a 50% reduction. As well as carbon reductions, there is also an economic benefit to adopting the circular economy. Adopting it within the built environment in London, it said, could contribute a further £3-5bn to GDP by 2036 through reducing the costs of primary materials and generating jobs in the areas of re-use, remanufacturing and materials innovation.

The report stressed infrastructure owners and operators have a “tremendous opportunity” to contribute to the UK by applying circular economy principles. Embracing the hierarchy of re-use, embracing new technologies, making the most of digitisation and the internet of things would enable the sector to minimise waste, maximise use of existing assets, reduce development costs and make a significant contribution to a net zero economy.

AECOM edie