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Carbon reduction and reporting: supply chains are key



Earlier this month [January], construction consultancy Akerlof published an analysis on how the UK’s 30 top tier 1 contractors are reporting on and reducing their carbon emissions.


The most striking finding of the analysis, which is based largely on 2022 reports and data, is that main contractors do not have a handle on emissions from their supply chains. And, according to Akerlof, these account for between 94 and 98% of a company’s emissions.


The report, called Carbon Blind Spots, explains that while most tier 1s have a good handle on their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, their approaches to Scope 3 emissions are varied and largely immature. (Scope 1 emissions are direct ones, Scope 2 emissions come from the generation of purchased energy and Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions up and down the value chain).


“Inconsistencies observed in data quality and depth of action planning cast shadows over the attainability of the declared net zero goals and raise concerns about the accounting and scope of Scope 3 emissions currently recorded,” says the report.


Some of the figures in the report starkly illustrate this point. For instance, Scope 3 emissions reported vary from 0.5 tCO2 /£m to 1,407.81 tCO2 /£m. Akerlof observes that while some variety should be expected due to the differences in size, activity and carbon reduction measures between contractors, this variation is significant.


The report also notes that eight of the contractors report huge rises in their Scope 3 emissions, varying from 243% to a whopping 80,890%. “These extremities suggest that organisations are grappling with the complexity of collecting accurate data and defining the scope of emissions to include,” says the commentary.


The report contains an interesting chart which shows the disparity in contractors’ target dates for net zero in the various scopes. The most bullish companies are Royal Bam, JRL Group, Robertson, Bouygues UK, John Sisk & Son and McLaughlin Harvey who have a very ambitious 2030 net zero target for Scopes 1, 2 and 3.


The report also identifies huge shortcomings in how the main contractors are managing risk. Akerlof says that 86% of them are subject to the Government’s new Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) regulations which require companies to report on the risks of climate change and they are mitigating them. Yes they are not making the link between financial planning and the risks of climate change and what it might do to their businesses, says the report. 


Among the report’s recommendations for change is the need for main contractors to engage more closely with their supply chains and for a consistent and accurate approach to reporting Scope 3 emissions. We believe that this is vitally important and it’s something Thermal Road Repairs has been working on through our partnership with Asphalt-IQ which uses actual emissions – rather than generic ones from an industry database – to calculate the embodied carbon of all types of roadworks, including pothole repairs.


Akerlof finishes the report by pointing out a very big elephant in the room: the fact that contractors’ business models are based around building more and more when in fact building less would be the best way to reduce our carbon emissions. It highlights examples from other industries, and from construction, where firms have switched to a business model based around the circular economy.


We would definitely argue the case for a more circular approach to our roads. That would mean early interventions with surface treatments to prolong the life of the asphalt and permanently repairing potholes so that they don’t reoccur – which is exactly what we set out to do in designing and developing the Thermal Road Repairs system.


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Thermal Road Repairs: Decarbonising the asphalt repair industry

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