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The climate opportunity. Simon Critten and Jon Barbalich

America can create new jobs and rev up the economy while acting to curb climate change. For organizations, cutting carbon provides an opportunity to strengthen commercial performance and resilience, say Simon Critten and Jon Barbalich.

Tackling the climate crisis looks likely to take center stage under President Joe Biden. President Biden campaigned on making US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Accomplishing this will require investment in clean energy resources, energy efficiency, public transport, electric vehicle manufacturing and charging, and consumer financial incentives to stimulate the uptake of clean tech.

The absence of overt political support to address climate change over the past four years has not prevented some sound efforts and investments in technologies critical to decarbonization. From falling renewable energy prices and fiscal support to state-level commitments to manage and reduce emissions, America has continued working toward lowering greenhouse gases.

Now, there is the opportunity to align needs nationally: as it works to beat and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, America needs to create jobs, make the economy clean, efficient and more equitable, and respond to the climate threat. If Biden succeeds in connecting these themes, he can potentially gain bipartisan momentum and public support.

From threat to opportunity

For over 20 years we have been helping clients globally to achieve carbon reductions, both to save cost and mitigate climate change. We have supported many firms in shifting their perception from ‘threat’ to ‘opportunity’. Businesses that drive ambitious decarbonization programs become more efficient, connect better with their investors and society, and are better equipped to achieve resilient, profitable growth. Deciding to decarbonize is to commit to change. We recognize that is not easy. But the consequences are overwhelmingly positive.

Rising to the decarbonization challenge and creating opportunities from it requires every organization to look at what they do and how they do it – encompassing their operations, services, projects, and products. The route to net-zero emissions should be viewed as a journey; no two organizations will start from the exact same point and the routes they take will differ; some will arrive at the destination sooner than others. But for all, the destination of net zero is the same.

What is net-zero?

Net zero for an organization is best looked at as an operating environment where it has no overall impact on the atmosphere from its greenhouse gas emissions. This means understanding, managing, systematically reducing, or preventing greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible before counterbalancing any residual emissions by an equivalent sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In setting its strategy and goals, every organization will need to work out what net-zero really means for them and the route they wish to take to this destination.

Improvements can then be planned and implemented with a sharp focus on cutting carbon. Careful investment decisions associated with reducing carbon can yield overall cost savings, quality advantages, and added value, including wider environmental and social benefits. For example, there is a growing body of evidence that utility organizations at the leading-edge can achieve 2:1 carbon and cost savings. Energy company National Grid and water company Anglian Water each cut capital carbon emissions by approximately 60% against baseline measurements in 2015-20, saving 30% capital cost across their multi-billion pound investment programs to expand, renew and modernize their infrastructure. Cost savings enabled more projects to be delivered within the original budget and freed capital to meet additional priorities. Given the critical importance of utility organizations in our society and the potential to create jobs through infrastructure investment in a post-COVID world this could be an important opportunity area for early focus.

It takes vision, work and faith, but working towards carbon net-zero strengthens organizations across all key dimensions – commercial, social and environmental.

Moata Carbon Portal

Our Moata Carbon Portal is a tool for which we are seeing increasing demand in the US. Carbon Portal is an industry-leading digital tool that helps shine a light on the carbon impacts of project decisions and supports our clients in identifying opportunities for these multilayered wins.

Carbon Portal is integrated with design tools, providing instantaneous carbon feedback throughout project development. It is particularly valuable during the early optioneering and outline design stages, when significant decisions about the shape, scope and specification of a project are being made. Early in project development it enables radical carbon and cost savings to be achieved, and supports ongoing optimization as the project advances: working from a carbon baseline, the project team can pursue further savings throughout design, material procurement, construction and other project phases.

When the Carbon Portal is coupled with our carbon management frameworks and innovative SmartInsights digital/online reporting system, we can proactively manage and document carbon reduction. The net result is new and improved routine ways of working, which also results in reduced project/program costs, shorter schedules, and improved quality.

We anticipate there will be increasing attention on Biden’s climate and energy plans and potential business impacts through 2021 . Change presents opportunities for companies, and based on our experience we believe these opportunities can be positive for all involved.

Our commitment to change

Our purpose is to improve society by considering social outcomes in everything we do, relentlessly focusing on excellence and digital innovation, transforming our clients’ businesses, our communities and employee opportunities. Fulfilling our purpose includes addressing climate change. To that end, we incorporate carbon reduction measures into our projects – it is one of our key risk management metrics. We highlight the importance of proactively identifying carbon reduction objectives in all phases of business planning and project lifecycle execution and work closely with clients to implement intentional actions to achieve the desired outcomes.

Our carbon experts authored the international standard for managing infrastructure carbon, PAS 2080; in 2018 we were the first organization of our kind to be internationally certified to PAS 2080. We were also the first to be internationally certified to the international standard for carbon neutrality, PAS 2060, in 2020.

Simon Critten is Mott MacDonald’s manager for power in North America
Jon Barbalich is Mott MacDonald’s energy sector lead in North America

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