Road Expo: WSP director outlines decarbonisation priorities

23/11/2021
Dominic Browne

WSP's UK director of sustainability has called for the sector to unite and seize the opportunity to achieve net zero or face a strategic threat to roads investment, stressing 'there is no net zero UK, without net zero roads'.

Speaking ahead of his major speech at next week's Road Expo, Scotland's flagship traffic and transport event, David Symons made a rallying cry and highlighted key steps on the road to net zero.

'In my talk, I will discuss net zero in roads maintenance and construction. This is the time for the highways industry to come together to lead the race to net zero and demonstrate that highways is at the heart of the solution,' he told Highways magazine.

'It is not too late but we need to take the opportunity for the sector to come together and work at pace to deliver net zero carbon. If we don't, it could be a strategic threat to investment in roads and there is no net zero UK without net zero roads.'

He also revealed that WSP modelling suggests the carbon emissions of road transport could be reduced to the level of rail's by as soon as 2035, because of the much quicker zero emission transition process for road vehicles over rail rolling stock and heavy engineering.

Mr Symons outlined several areas of key focus that he will discuss in greater depth in Glasgow, including what he argued were the top three priorities in net zero highways:

Clarity

'Suppliers need clarity from bodies such as National Highways and Transport Scotland on what is expected in terms of decarbonisation including the materials involved and how the budgets and finance will support this work.

'We hope the work National Highways has done outlining its expectations through its decarbonisation plan can be aligned with the rest of the UK.'

Standards

'Standards have to support net zero carbon in construction. They have to move faster than they do at the moment to adapt. That is not a criticism of the standards, which have previously been focused on design, safety and cost issues. Net zero and resilience are two new priorities that have emerged.'

Innovation

'There needs to be a recognition that the Government cannot pay for all of the innovation in the construction sector. Construction firms are big businesses and they should invest in low carbon techniques and technologies and don't have to wait for the Government to get on with that.'

WSP has pledged to halve the carbon footprint of all the designs and advice it provides to clients by 2030. This commitment builds on the firm’s earlier vow to bring its own UK operational carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.

Mr Symonds highlighted that WSP had been working with National Highways on decarbonisation strategies for the last 18 months. It has also worked closely with Transport Scotland with more of a focus on implementation, through schemes such as the flagship Electric A9 programme to deliver charge points along Scotland's longest road.

WSP also works with local authorities on environmental issues, many of which have set their own decarbonisation targets.

'Decarbonising over the next 20 years is one of the biggest challenges in highways at the moment,' he said. 'WSP can bring practical reflections and share innovations we have found across industry. One of our great opportunities for WSP is to help scale up successful innovations from wherever we find them.

'There are a plethora of examples. We have done great work on modular offsite manufacturing with Laing O'Rourke, for which we have won awards. That process can cut carbon by 30%.

'There is also warm mix asphalt, which is fairly standard now and the work of National Highways on graphene to see how you can extend the life of surfaces.

'There is also lots to celebrate in other areas such as the work Jacobs and HS2 Ltd have done on the Colne Valley Viaduct.'

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