While not an obligation, it’s fundamental for us to have a third-party looking in at our sustainability process and practice.” This February, HS2 Ltd pocketed a BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) Scheme Certificate for Phase 1, London to the West Midlands, and became the UK’s first infrastructure project to receive this independent stamp of approval.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) was introduced by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in 1990 and is the world’s longest established method of assessing the sustainability of buildings. A similar scheme for infrastructure is CEEQUAL, which was established by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

To find out more about HS2’s ‘ambitious sustainability strategy’ and the significance of this accreditation, Rail Engineer caught up with Peter Miller, HS2 environment director, and Chris Broadbent, director CEEQUAL and BREEAM Infrastructure at BRE, the organisation behind BREEAM.

“Introduced in 2015, the BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) Scheme Certificate came about following use of BREEAM for venues for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Chris Broadbent explained.

“After the Games, several people from industry approached us, including consultants working with HS2 at that stage, about the possibility of extending this BREEAM thinking to infrastructure. So, in 2013, I set up and led the team developing the BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) Scheme, which we then launched in 2015.”

BREEAM assesses and certifies the sustainability performance of individual buildings, communities and infrastructure projects at a number of stages in the built environment life cycle – from design and construction through to operation and refurbishment.

Peter Miller continued: “Achieving this certification for Phase 1 gains us credibility from a well-recognised organisation that challenges industry. It reassures the public and stakeholders that we are going about sustainability in the right way. Underpinning the work we are doing, it provides reassurance that HS2 is working well for the public purse.”

“HS2 has really set out its stall in a good way for sustainability,” added Chris Broadbent. “Following this, there will be an assessment for the design phase, and finally for the build.”

Ratings to push boundaries

BREEAM Infrastructure addresses carbon issues and resource management, as well as the wider range of sustainability categories such as resilience, stakeholder engagement, pollution, ecology and heritage. As Chris Broadbent stated: “Our aim is to give a balanced outcome and provide a framework to manage sustainability across all of these aspects.”

Each of these categories addresses the most influential sustainability factors, including low-impact design and carbon emissions reduction, design durability and resilience; adaption to climate change; ecological value and biodiversity protection.

Projects seeking to obtain the Infrastructure certification gain credits in the respective categories, scoring higher in some perhaps and lower in others, depending on their particular focus. “But adding up all the scores, the scheme gives a balanced result for a project’s sustainability across the board.”

With a five-tier rating system ranging from Pass – Good – Very Good – Excellent – Outstanding, the certificate seeks to push participating projects beyond mandatory requirements to prove they are pushing the boundaries. So, while achieving a Pass suggests ‘just over the basic minimum’, anything higher confirms they are doing far more. If the assessment awarded is Excellent, for instance, this probably means the project has scored well in all the different categories.

“We have only completed the strategic assessment at this point and scored 32 out of the available 41 credits,” said Peter Miller. “This puts us in the right place to achieve the BREEAM excellence we have committed to.”

Around 100 people at HS2 supported the project’s BREEAM manager who led on the assessment. They included technical specialists whose expertise includes areas such as carbon, heritage, waste, biodiversity, and noise, supported by the wider environmental management team across the three delivery Phases.

In addition, there are other individuals across the organisation dealing with social sustainability, including equality; diversity, inclusion and skills; education and employment.

“As this infrastructure scheme is currently in pilot, there was a lot more engagement with BRE to discuss technical queries and how we should apply it and their process to a project the size of HS2 – with multiple contracts such as enabling works, main works, civils – than you would typically have with a standard BREEAM assessment for buildings,” Peter Miller pointed out.

From words to action – sustainability in the field

HS2’s stated ambition is “to build the most sustainable high-speed railway of its kind in the world”. With this bold goal in mind, it has divided the task into five themes:

  • Spreading the benefits: economic growth and community regeneration;
  • Opportunities for all: skills, employment and education;
  • Safe at heart: health, safety and well-being;
  • Respecting our surroundings: environmental protection and management;
  • Standing the test of time: design that is future-proof.

Engaging with local communities is an important part of the plan, Peter Miller insisted. But what does this mean in practice? Well, there’s the £40 million HS2 Phase 1 Community and Environment Fund, established to support projects along the Phase 1 route through refurbishing community centres, nature conservation, and measures to support jobs and local economies.

“It’s about enabling local communities to be sustainable in their own right,” said Peter Miller. “Groups can bid for a piece of this funding to get something done for their community. Like the recent award for Wendover Woods.”

Woodland

On 8 March 2018, HS2 Minister Nusrat Ghani announced a £450,000 grant for the Wendover Woods Recreational Development project near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The award will fund plans for a new woodland hub with an adventure trail, café and parking for 600 visitors.

“This scheme, which will be delivered by Forestry Enterprise England, will include flat surfaces so older and mobility impaired people can access and benefit from the venue,” Peter Miller explained. “Plus, visitors will be able to walk there from the local railway station and electric charging points will also encourage more sustainable transport services to the site.”

To deliver a “bigger and better” ecological impact, HS2 is also linking up its mitigation plans with existing ecological sites wherever possible. In the Cubbington area, Warwickshire, for instance, remnants of ancient woodland will be linked to provide a bigger woodland habitat for wildlife. Extending to the River Leam, where HS2 will be on viaduct, this space will enable wildlife to roam freely through the landscape and pass safely beneath the high-speed track.

“We can’t deny the project will have impacts, but if we go about sustainability in the right way, the outcome for the future will be positive,” Peter Miller added. “For example, given the awful lot of woodland involved in the project, around 650 hectares, our plan will deliver a Green Corridor along the rail route.”

Water

Treating water properly also features in HS2’s strategy. At Park Hall Nature Reserve outside Birmingham, the project is changing the nature of the River Tame to realise a more natural course.

“Yes, these works will be disruptive in the first instance,” Peter Miller acknowledged, “but, over time, they will deliver a greater ecological outcome, providing flood relief and improving access for local people. This is a great example of how the new railway can deliver local benefits as well as meeting the country’s wider transport objectives.”

Positive integration of structures

To mitigate the impact of the 3.4km-long Colne Valley viaduct, one of the biggest structures on the Phase 1 route, HS2 says a lot of work has gone into creating a structure that fits in with the landscape and minimises impact on the surrounding environment (issue 160, February 2018).

“Innovative ideas include additional elements such as transparent noise-reduction barriers with vertical lines that are visible to bats and wildfowl to reduce possible impacts, whilst creating a slimmer side profile of the viaduct,” said Jim Barclay, chair of the Colne Valley Regional Park Panel.

Counting the gains

Public acceptance, stakeholder confidence and balancing cost and life cycle value are among the benefits of a BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot) Scheme. Having such a solid strategy in place can also deliver gains further down the line. While there may be additional capital cost to infrastructure meeting the BREEAM standard, this cost needs to be seen in the context of the overall life cycle value that sustainable development can deliver.

“Yes, of course there’s the economic aspect too,” Peter Miller agreed. “Cost efficiencies can be generated through actions such as using resources more efficiently, selecting appropriate materials, and avoiding waste. Take the provision of lights as an example. In the past we had heat inefficient light bulbs. Today we have LED. Today we have passive heating systems. We have built these kinds of sustainable processes and outcomes into our thinking.”

Chris Broadbent pointed out how many BREEAM users also see the scheme as a useful management tool that prompts questions about their sustainability approach and even opens up avenues to do things in other ways. To reduce the carbon impact, for example, they might use a different concrete mix, dispense with concrete altogether, or adopt a completely different approach to the build. Rail Engineer asked Peter Miller whether this was the case for HS2?

“At the same time as undertaking our BREEAM strategic assessment, we were writing our requirements for our Phase 1 contractors,” he replied. “We used BREEAM to inform the requirements and identified some additional credits we expected our contractors to achieve over and above the minimum requirements. For instance, we have mandated the need for a carbon and energy strategy, when this is an optional credit in BREEAM Infrastructure.

“Our sustainability strategy will broadly stay the same, our carbon objective, for one, accords with Government’s aspirations for near zero emissions by 2050. Our plan is to get on a pathway now that shows how HS2 will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that will require innovation through design and construction and careful thought about the energy use during operation.

“That’s the benefit of BREEAM; it helps frame the sustainable outcome. But recognising how we do that will be determined through flexible practice, effective design and innovation.”

Driving forces and the bigger picture

There is a focus on carbon in the infrastructure sector, particularly following the ‘Infrastructure Carbon Review’ (ICR) report produced by HM Treasury in 2013. Confirming the link between reducing carbon and reducing cost, it focuses on the value of lower carbon solutions to make carbon reduction part of the DNA of infrastructure in the UK.

Chris Broadbent believes its recommendations have since helped drive up industry awareness of the importance of taking sustainability matters fully on board. “One of them resulted in the development of PAS 2080 as a standard to help projects and organisations establish a common understanding, approach, and language for whole life carbon management in infrastructure.

“The BREEAM scheme is part of a credible package we are creating around our commitments to sustainability, which also includes ISO 14001:2015 – environmental management systems certification for Phase 1,” Peter Miller stated. “With such a huge build, we have many contractors designing and this certification, very much an industry standard, will serve to reinforce our sustainability message to them when civil engineering work kicks off in 2019. It also helps to point to processes and practices in the supply chain.”

Yes, HS2’s commitment to all matters sustainable appears to delve deep and wide. Motivating the supply chain is very much part of the package. Here one goal is to ensure compliance with the Euro 6 engine emission standard for the fleets of construction vehicles in order to generate less air pollution (NOX particles and CO2).

“It’s a game-changing moment because we have big buying power that will influence the construction industry, so this kind of benefit will change the way we do things that will benefit others in the years to come,” Peter Miller told Rail Engineer. “The kit and equipment from plants will most likely be used on other projects after HS2. We must be seen to be doing the right thing and lead by example.”

Joining forces

BREEAM isn’t the only independent ratings body on the block. The CEEQUAL scheme has also been influential over the years in shaping the sustainability agenda and outcomes for many infrastructure projects. Its CEEQUAL methodology has been applied to – and positively influenced – some of the UK’s most successful infrastructure projects including Crossrail and the London 2012 Olympics.

In response to the introduction of BREEAM Infrastructure (pilot), industry expressed its interest in having a single scheme, rather than two separate bodies running two in parallel. “This led to the idea of merging the CEEQUAL and BREEAM infrastructure schemes, and our acquisition of CEEQUAL in November 2015,” Chris Broadbent explained.

Following this move, CEEQUAL (2018) is set to launch (later this year) as the sole successor. BRE chief executive Peter Bonfield commented: “Our long-term aspiration with a single scheme is to bring together the significant experience and expertise behind the two rating systems to deliver enhanced environmental and social benefits for civil engineering works and better economic outcomes that benefit society, and broaden up-take in the UK and international markets.”

Walking the talk

As far as HS2 is concerned, gaining accreditation for its sustainability strategy is setting the project up for even more scrutiny (if possible) over the coming years. Henceforth, all eyes will be riveted on the team to see if they deliver the promised goods. It’s just as well they anticipated this development.

“HS2 was thinking about sustainability from the outset, back in 2013, and this is important,” said Chris Broadbent. “The earlier you engage, the better the outcome. If you try to add on sustainability when the designs have been finalised, it’s usually too late.”

“We can’t pay lip service to sustainability but have to strike the right balance between the environmental and social costs and benefits,” Peter Miller summed up. “Since HS2 is publicly underwritten, it’s vital we spend the money in the right way. You don’t get an Act of Parliament approved these days without adopting this kind of sustainable approach.”


Infrastructure Carbon Review

The Infrastructure Carbon Review sets out a series of actions for government, clients and suppliers to reduce carbon from the construction and operation of the UK’s infrastructure assets, in line with the UK’s climate change commitments. The recommendations have the potential to reduce up to 24 million tonnes of carbon and save the UK £1.46 billion a year by 2050.

The Review is developed jointly by government and industry though the Infrastructure Cost Review and Green Construction Board. Published on 25 November 2013, it was signed by government ministers Lord Deighton and Michael Fallon and by representatives of the following organisations:

  • Highways Agency
  • Heathrow Airport Ltd
  • EDF (New Nuclear)
  • National Grid
  • Anglian Water
  • Defence Infrastructure Organisation
  • Skanska
  • The Clancy Group
  • Galliford Try
  • Laing O’Rourke
  • JN Bentley
  • Balfour Beatty
  • Carillion
  • Bam Nuttall
  • Murphy Group
  • Arup
  • Atkins
  • Mott Macdonald
  • ICE
  • UK Green Building Council

Read more: 5G – A General Perspective