The March edition: Balfour Beatty’s latest Zero Carbon Construction Site update

Angela Pllu, Environment & Sustainability Manager, reflects on the progress that Balfour Beatty has made behind the scenes over the last few months, at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

It’s been a few months since we last reported on our journey towards the Zero Carbon Construction Site of the future at our Edinburgh Biomes project - Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

As advanced works come to a close, we currently have limited onsite presence. But fear not, that hasn’t slowed us down and we have continued to beaver away behind the scenes to iron out some of the knotty issues we face in reducing our carbon emissions on site.

One of the things that we have been grappling with is the financial costs associated with zero carbon construction. Generally, we’ve found the upfront costs of lower carbon options to be considerably higher than more traditional methods - but of course, the costs can be recouped over the longer term through energy efficiency.

We’re taking this opportunity to trial as many low carbon options as possible, without any additional cost to the customer, by working with third parties and our supply chain partners such as Sunbelt Rentals. They’ve stepped up and are subsiding the cost of the eco-friendly cabins on site, allowing us to collect the best data on their performance and showcase the benefits these cabins can really deliver.

Through these trials, we’ll understand what does and doesn’t work, both in terms of carbon reduction and cost efficiencies and, once we have that understanding, we can implement these solutions on other projects across our portfolio.

Elsewhere, topsoil has been at the ‘top’ of our list.

While we always look to repurpose topsoil due to it being a nutrient-rich, fertile, valuable and finite resource taking around 100 years to make, on a project of this scale – we had a substantial amount spare! We offered the soil to local individuals and organisations and were delighted to be inundated with requests from the community.

Made possible by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) who agreed that we were able to use the ‘Greenfield soils protocol’, we delivered some 50 tonnes around the local area. A significant step forward in ensuring that this valuable resource is classified as a material that can be reused and its inherent value is not lost.

And finally, as I reflect back on one of the key aims of this experiment, I am also delighted to report that we’ve made significant progress in upskilling our people as well as our supply chain partners.  

Across the UK, we’ve implemented a mandatory Carbon Conscious education programme, so that all of our workforce understands the carbon costs of their behaviour and how they can play their part in helping Balfour Beatty reduce its carbon footprint.  

We’ve also started working with our partners to ensure that qualifications and training frameworks reflect the importance of carbon-related knowledge and skills, helping to increase the level of understanding on climate change and how their skills contribute to net zero. One of the key things we’ve looked at is ensuring that sustainability is included in all apprenticeships.

We still have a long way to go, but we’re pleased with how far we’ve come to date. It’s not all been plain sailing, but personally, I am grateful to work for a company that takes its environmental responsibility so seriously and is willing to put in the work for the benefit of the wider industry.