Robust decarbonisation pathways key to meeting global net zero targets


Atkins director Stuart McLaren explains how their ‘Decarbonomics’ approach to delivering greener buildings for all can help clients on a global scale.

The built environment contributes around 40% of global emissions. A sustainable future, therefore, depends upon the construction industry finding new and better ways of delivering leaner, greener buildings for all.

Our Decarbonomics approach is designed to help benchmark, roadmap and deliver better outcomes, helping managers of estate portfolios to understand where and how to make the biggest and most cost-effective gains.

The challenge of getting from where we are today to a sustainable low-carbon future is unprecedented in scale. Globally, most of the buildings that will exist in 2050 already exist. So, net zero legislation is increasing the pressure on building owners and occupiers to do more with their existing assets.

Simultaneously, environmental, social and governance factors are driving a revolution in ethical investment in international finance, whilst more and more consumers want companies to align with their values. Together with the compounding impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and stressed global supply chains, the conflicting forces are enormous.

Yet even where targets are finally beginning to land, they’re largely theoretical. Implementing decarbonisation actions that can achieve targets, and constantly monitoring and verifying them, is the next fundamental obstacle.

What is holding building owners and occupiers back is not ambition. Expertise, understanding and foresight is needed to help organisations around the world make the best investment decisions to achieve the required change. Only by harnessing people, data and technology can we create the conditions necessary for a financially sustainable, zero carbon globally transformation programme.

However, this requires an approach which can capture the full picture of the presence of carbon at scale across whole portfolios. From this we can create a benchmark, which enables us to develop robust, data-led roadmaps for the delivery of decarbonisation programmes.

The importance of benchmarking

Benchmarking sets out carbon baselines by obtaining, structuring, and presenting the critical data through an easy to use and interactive visual platform. Utilising our unique global Carbon Data Insights database, we can provide high degrees of accuracy with significantly reduced need for surveying buildings.

The key is data – a mix of global open source data, our data library and industry leading data models and algorithms. However, like an engine needs the right fuel to function, analytic tools need accurate data sources to provide meaningful insights.

All too often we find that industry suffers a shared problem – poor data maturity. Our Carbon Data Insights database and smart data warehouse architecture allows us to plug clients’ data gaps, generating faster decision making in the short run, whilst in the long run feeding back real-life data into the models.

Working with a number of UK government departments, we have been piloting our Decarbonomics proposition and shown the potential of our approach.

By surveying a substantive portion of their estates, we were able to assess the real-world accuracy of our benchmark predictions. That accuracy worked out to be over 95%, meaning that moving forwards we can all be increasingly confident in the roadmap built on those projections. That saves time and money. And the more data we analyse, the stronger our foundations become.

Stuart McLaren, director of Decarbonomics at Atkins.

Building robust roadmaps

Put simply, a Decarbonomics roadmap creates a visually interactive cost and programme optimised pathway to net zero. By factoring in a wide range of possible physical and non-physical interventions, it sets out a course for change.

Using sophisticated data models – a uniquely configured data warehouse and advanced algorithms to simplify and automate large parts of the process – we are able to rapidly generate roadmaps, optimised against life cycle replacement considerations with scenario modelling capability to align to a business’s key drivers.

As an intelligent and dynamic system, it models different scenarios to drive programme and cost optimisation, clarifying priorities through marginal abatement cost curves to inform capital planning. This level of functionality restores agency and speed to incisive decision-making.

It’s critical that a roadmap informs optimal investment or business case decisions. That’s why a core feature is generating the necessary insights to develop robust business cases, presented in easy-to-access dashboards and reports. This same transparency serves as the basis for delivery, providing the outline delivery programme against which delivery performance can be measured.

Identifying and closing delivery performance gaps is central to ensuring cost effective programmes succeed in the long run. It is therefore vital that project teams, investors and stakeholders can track live performance, seeing how delivery tracks against plan. By working cohesively to a shared and joined up vision and plan, success can be maximised.

Delivering decarbonisation programmes

The proof of the pudding is, however, in the eating. Executing the roadmap is the final step to realising profound change. One of our key strengths in decarbonising the built environment is our end-to-end expertise. From project management to engineering design, cost consultancy to data science, we’re there along the way to simplify and de-risk the journey to net zero. From designing and implementing quick wins to longer term net zero delivery partner roles for complex portfolios, our experienced hand is standing by to steady the tiller and ensure that the deliverables are met.

The technology behind Decarbonomics is not a silver bullet. It’s grounded in the understanding that data-driven service delivery is only effective when paired with human decision making and problem solving from industry leading expertise. It shows how systems-thinking, when operationalised, can be paradigm-changing.

By employing the latest in modern engineering and linking it to a granular understanding of how buildings and people interact, we can shepherd sustainability to meet and exceed our targets. Our future is closer than ever. If we embed the right philosophy and tools now, the dream of 2050 will become reality.

Stuart McLaren is director of Decarbonomics at Atkins.