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Cutting carbon: let’s get it right first time

Guest blog by Steve Knott, business director for Amey’s strategic highways division

Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when injuries and deaths were less consciously considered in construction. Yet, before the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in 1974, that was exactly how it was.

There has been a huge cultural shift from then to now. And I believe that we are on the cusp of another such shift.

The catalyst for this change is our need to tackle climate change, a will to lower the carbon emissions associated with our activities on our road to net zero. But there is a big caveat here. Unless infrastructure owners, and the companies who serve them, are focussed on whole life carbon, we are at risk of moving in the wrong direction.

The Importance of Looking at Whole Life Carbon

Just because a material or product has lower embodied carbon up to the point it is installed, doesn’t mean it will lead to the lowest embodied carbon over a road’s whole life. The first principle of a circular economy is that resources should be kept in use for as long as possible.

Take pothole repair as an example. One system may have less embodied carbon than another up to the point at which the repair is made, but if that repair only lasts for half the time of the other method, there will be carbon gains rather than carbon savings. We need to be looking at whole life carbon, hand-in-hand with whole life cost, if we really want to make the necessary progress.

As National Highway’s number one contractor in terms of road length, with contracts in areas 7, 10 and 12 and a specialist inspection and maintenance contract for the Severn Bridges and Avonmouth, Amey is working hard to develop ‘right first time’, carbon considered repair regimes.

Thermal Road Repairs’ technology is part of that. We used it for the first time on the strategic network in 2021 to fix a pothole on the M1 that kept opening up. It worked – and the bonus is that it’s a lower carbon method than other, more traditional, repair methods.

Our Goals

Our aspiration is to get to the point where all immediate and urgent pothole repairs can be done just once and done right, eliminating the need for carbon-generating return visits. Apart from the benefits in carbon and cost, this reduces disruption to road users and lowers the amount of time our workers are exposed to potential safety risks on the road.

Of course, there are hurdles to clear before we get to that point. Can we find a way to reduce the cycle time for a right-first-time repair system and move away from temporary emergency repairs? Or could we justify delaying customers by a few more minutes in the pursuit of better, whole life carbon outcomes and less overall disruption?

These are the sorts of questions we, as an industry, need to be discussing with our customers and our supply chains around the table, including SMEs like Thermal Road Repairs. When we are designing and delivering operational solutions, we must have the whole life cost and whole life carbon at the forefront of our minds. This is part of Amey’s roadmap to net zero, with a longer-term positive impact on our people, places and our planet.

It isn’t going to be easy to change mindsets and take the steps to change that our transition to a low carbon economy requires. But, I believe that we have both the will and the ability to do it – just as we had with health and safety all those years ago.


At Thermal Road Repairs, our goal as a green technology company is to supply systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods.

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how our methods can help decarbonise the asphalt repair industry.

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