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Collaboration in zero carbon – we need more!

Climate Change By Elidir Millen, Engineer – 03 October 2022

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Elidir Millen

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On a global scale, the fight against climate change has brought nations of different cultures, economic structures, and ideologies together to set targets and initiatives to halt the damage done to our planet. Despite valid criticism on whether the scale of response is enough, events like the UN Climate Change conferences show that there is an established belief that to succeed in the fight against climate change, widespread collaboration is vital. There will be no single nation that solves the climate issue alone.

The idea of this global scale collaboration has led me to think about how we as an industry collaborate with each other to reach our sustainability goals, especially between different design consultancies. The answer is that, currently, we collaborate very little.

As a Zero Carbon Design 2030 Advocate within the civil engineering team, we are developing a tool that will allow us to quantify the embodied carbon within our designs. This tool will allow us to propose the lowest carbon design solutions possible to our clients and become much more informed on the impact our designs have on the climate. Despite making significant progress, the development of this tool is being done in-house, and the challenge of balancing project work with the time it takes to gather information has meant the tool is still a work in progress.

Given how useful this sort of tool set could be, I have no doubt that engineers in other consultancies are developing identical tools, and are likely running into the same issues as we are. Much like the collaborative approach required on the global scale, if there was an opportunity for open dialogue and information sharing between consultancies, the development of tools and resources to achieve a carbon-neutral construction industry would surely be accelerated.

The nature of the private industry means that design consultancies are inherently constrained by competition to win work. This means any innovation that is developed in-house is closely guarded, which naturally limits the opportunity for collaboration.

There are arguments that this competitiveness can speed up the development of such tools. Also, there is the fact that we need to be financially robust to ensure we have the means to develop these tools in the first place, which means being in a position where we can win work.

However, as an industry, we need to ask ourselves: what is the root driver for us in developing these various tools and resources to reach our zero carbon goals? Is it to gain an advantage within the market to win more jobs? Or is it to contribute to helping the planet and securing the future of following generations? From speaking to people both within and outside Cundall, I think the vast majority are driven by the latter.

Therefore, with the increasing emphasis on a collaborative global response to climate change in mind, I believe a medium for some level of collaboration with engineers outside of our immediate workplaces must be a welcome idea and one that can only have positive outcomes. It would be great to see more independent forums such as the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), which promotes initiatives that encourage zero carbon collaboration across the civil engineering sector. This is where engineers from different backgrounds could share ideas, knowledge, and even resources with the sole aim of reaching our zero carbon goals as a collective industry. If the industry can embrace more collaboration, we can help each other save time - after all, time is not on our side.

If you want to get involved in a forum like this or know of one, please get in touch.

Elidir Millen is an Advocate for Zero Carbon Design 2030 based in London.