Reducing carbon emission in highways should be an industry priority, says WJ Group

20 January, 2020 - News - Craig Potts

Carbon reduction should be an integral part of the procurement process in the highways sector, encouraging more companies to significantly reduce carbon as part of any future projects, according to Paul Aldridge, Sustainability Director at WJ Group.

A model innovation

Speaking after the accomplishment of WJ’s Product Carbon Footprint Model initiative, Mr Aldridge said: “At the moment there is not enough incentive for companies to make the necessary changes to reduce carbon quickly enough. Maybe it will come down to regulation in the end, but we can’t wait, we have to act now. The sector has spent a long time talking about this, but not doing a lot, now is the time to change that.”

“Simple things can make a big difference.  If we knew the footprint of all companies and all materials and understand them, we could start to change things.  WJ can now make more than 80% reduction in embedded carbon in materials at no cost to our clientele, and if anything with a slight performance gain.

Why do we not specify this?  If the specification is too slow and cumbersome then at least it should be an essential part of the procurement process,” he added.

WJ’s new Product Carbon Footprint Model provides quick, efficient, and reliable at-scale carbon footprinting for all current and future thermoplastic products, independently verified to PAS 2050:2011 and ISO14067 (2018).

This ‘cradle-to-gate’ life cycle assessment model calculates the footprint of each product.  It measures embedded carbon in each of the ingredients within their formulations, the energy used in production and that information can then be used to develop less carbon-intense products or reformulate current products to reduce carbon intensity and the adverse environmental impacts.

The model has determined that switching from Hydrocarbon Resin to a Bio-Based (Rosin Ester) reduces average CO2e per tonne from 2.74 to 0.52. Based on a like for like product comparison this would reduce C02 emissions by 81% or a 22,200 kgCO2e reduction in WJ’s total product emissions.

This accredited measurement methodology combined with life cycle thinking and effective chemistry can be seen in WJ’s range of high-performance materials. Weatherline uses a bio-based binder producing high retroreflective performance, in wet or dry with outstanding durability and has up to five times less embodied carbon than traditional high-performance systems.

It is one of the most significant steps they have taken to accurately measure embodied carbon, then formulate and manufacture road marking materials combining high visibility and durability with the lowest carbon footprint. This project has formed part of the company’s wider environmental sustainability project.

A challenge for life

Government figures from 2019 confirmed that the majority of Britain’s greenhouse gases now come from transport. According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions from road transport have continued to grow since 1990, rising 6% over those three decades.

The company’s Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach also highlighted areas of excellence from within WJ’s supply chain where through collaboration WJ can source and develop materials that are recycled or exhibit low carbon and other benefits.  Another such benefit from the LCA approach is confidence in the provenance of materials.  This gives WJ confidence that these directly purchased materials come from organisations that practice fair and safe employment practices.  WJ is a signatory of the Construction Protocol and requires its supply chain to adopt similar standards.

“Specification and procurement changes are essential if we as a country are going to meet our sustainable development goals.  It is possible to procure not just on price and there are many excellent examples where quality has a higher score.  It is imperative to recognise the importance of the Carbon intensity of products and their delivery.  This many believe should be a serious part of the specification and then procurement of goods and services,” says Mr Aldridge.

Collective efforts

Elsewhere, the highways industry is starting to make some progress. One example is Skanska’s Net Zero 2045 project where it is committed to what it describes as ‘zeronauts’ by that time, joining big brands such as IKEA, BT, Aldi and Bosch who will do the same.

Also, some local authorities, such as Dorset County Council, have declared ‘climate emergencies’. The council said it has ‘an obligation to demonstrate leadership-thinking globally about the implications of climate change and acting locally to help address it in our communities’.

“There are lots of excellent, admirable commitments and plenty of positive actions, but yet these are far from coordinated, “ added Mr Aldridge. “The highways sector needs someone to take the lead on this whether that is a membership association or other industry body. Coordination and collaboration are key to making this work,” he said. “WJ assume as the world changes the highway services delivered now, will not be adequate for the future. The ‘climate emergency is happening now and all highways businesses have a vital role to play in overcoming it.”

WJ is already working on another ‘industry leading’ carbon reduction project as part of the second phase of this project and Mr Aldridge believes the highways industry can learn from actions already taken in other areas of life. “Take them home for example. Energy ratings that can be found on fridges and other similar household appliances could easily be applied to highway projects,” he added.

Calculating the impact

Whilst building their carbon calculator WJ also realised that waste in their manufacturing plants was low in any comparator with the construction sector, typically less than 1%.  This demonstrates the benefits of installing powerful extraction systems giving improved air quality to manufacturing staff and by clever chemistry adjusting product formulations to allow reuse of the captured dust.

Also, WJ is the largest installer of road studs in Britain, putting down approximately 1.4 million annually with many temporary products, which after use are swept up and sent to landfill.  Investment in a sustainable method of screening this waste and recycling afforded a 90% reduction to the landfill with an estimated cost saving of more than £30,000 a year. WJ continue to work towards a zero-waste outcome, mitigating Green House Gas at the landfill and at the same time, creating more employment within recycling. “The future is about becoming a carbon-neutral business,” adds Mr Aldridge.

WJ design and manufacture their own road marking vehicles engaging with its workforce to continually provide ideas and incremental improvements. An example of this was the development of triple preheaters for trucks in certain areas.  On its London and Birmingham based fleets, it was a frequent requirement to send two trucks to the site, one for traditional white/yellow markings and one for red markings or coloured surfacing.  WJ has led the way in developing a triple preheater vehicle to apply white, yellow and red markings in one site visit.  Also developing Combi trucks to provide high friction surfacing and/or road markings on one visit by one vehicle, has been another aspect of their agenda.

These developments mean fewer specialist vehicles, fewer journeys, less traffic management, less congestion, fewer accidents, less impact on the community and improved efficiency with more than 50% emission reduction. That emission reduction means less carbon and also less NOx and PMs, according to the company.

As well as that, WJ measures its operational carbon footprint for scope 1 and 2 emissions but due to the massive known health impact from poor air quality, they also calculate NOx and PMs monthly by depot and vehicle.  Paul Aldridge represents WJ on the LoCITY Waste and Construction Group and they have adopted a program in their business plan to rapidly reduce NOx and PMs from the WJ fleet.

WJ also has an ongoing programme to install Photovoltaic power at all its depots.  WJ South West led the way in this where the custom-built facilities are already carbon positive, putting more electricity into the grid than they draw.   Whilst WJ South also deploy a solar array reducing emissions from its Milton Keynes operations which include their largest materials manufacturing plant.

All WJ’s depots provide at least two EV charging points and they have over 20 plug-in hybrid and full electric cars on their fleet.  At WJ Products in Bradford, its entire team cycle to work many days and have adopted car sharing on most the days where this is unpleasant due to the weather.

Paul Aldridge concluded, “Our overall vision for a sustainable future is to create a company and culture that delivers environmental, social and economic value for our people, communities and ourselves.”