Rail Industry Focus


‘It just makes sense’

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

Sustainability has been the watchword across the supply chain in recent years, not least since Network Rail made it a formal part of the tender process. Balfour Beatty Rail, though, has been ‘doing’ sustainability for far longer than most. RTM spoke to Sam Brewitt, its sustainability manager, to find out more.

Anyone reading this hopefully knows by now that sustainability, in business terms, is not just a buzzword meaning ‘energy efficiency’, but rather covers long-term impacts on society, economic profitability and local communities as well as the environment.

Major contractors in the rail industry have to take it seriously, especially now that the main client organisations do so.

Sam Brewitt, sustainability manager at Balfour Beatty Rail, says the rail sector is more ‘advanced’ on sustainability in the UK than most other countries – though Deutsche Bahn in Germany is better than most as a client organisation in pressing for it. But in the UK, rail is “definitely behind” other sectors like major construction and utilities when it comes to sustainability, though it has been catching up in the last couple of years, partly thanks to the co-ordinated and practical steps taken by Network Rail.

Brewitt praised the work of people like Gareth Llewellyn, director of safety and sustainable development at Network Rail, its head of sustainable business strategy Ian Groark, and Network Rail IP’s Tertius Beneke, in co-ordinating sustainability across Network Rail and driving it through the rest of the supply chain.

But Brewitt says Balfour Beatty, including the rail business, had been acting in what’s now termed a sustainable way for years. It was in 2010 when it was all drawn together under the umbrella of an official programme – partly because of interest from clients and large investors like Hermes and Schroders. “We needed to demonstrate what we were already doing, to quantify what we were achieving, and set targets for where we were going,” Brewitt said.

Brewitt’s own job is primarily ensuring sustainability at the corporate level, ensuring reporting is spot-on and governance is in place further down the business. Larger projects have their own environment/sustainability managers to look after the day-to-day running, while smaller contracts will be looked after by the SHEQ person – safety, health, environment, quality – as is common throughout the rail and construction industry. Balfour Beatty also has a UK-wide sustainable supply chain policy and strategy, and is a member of the Sustainability Supply Chain School (nearly half of its 2,000 members are suppliers to some part of the group).

Balfour Beatty’s conception of sustainability splits it into ‘profitable markets’, ‘healthy communities’, and ‘environmental limits’. Every operating company (of which Balfour Beatty Rail in the UK is one) has to comply with the worldwide business’s sustainability blueprint, and set its own targets against 24 measures within it.

There is a ‘vision’ for where the company needs to be by 2020, including interim targets for 2012, now passed, and end-2015. 

Some sustainability targets end up being hit purely in the effort to work more efficiently, as is being demanded by client organisations. Doing things better for less often means having less impact on the environment and communities, for example. “It just makes sense,” Brewitt said. “But it’s wise to have a dedicated programme for sustainability not just to tell people what we’re doing across the group, but to make it easier to share best practice.”

A major focus this year, Brewitt added, is ensuring the right governance structures are in place across the various business units within Balfour Beatty Rail (plant, civils, enhancements etc), to ensure senior teams review progress against their own targets quarterly. 

Picking up on best practice

Among Brewitt’s targets is one to capture best practice via 12 case studies a year, especially examples of good work that may not have earlier been recognised as sustainability in action.

Of the 40 wider sustainability targets, particular attention is paid to four – cutting scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 20% by 2015 (on a 2010 baseline; scope 1 and 2 refers to direct emissions and those from energy use); cutting emissions associated with train travel, and with plane travel (scope 3 emissions); and reducing waste generated by 10% by 2015. Brewitt says reducing waste generated is more ambitious than the normal targets on waste-to-landfill – prevention is better than cure, essentially.

On emissions, energy use at offices and depots is a “drop in the ocean” compared to emissions from company vehicles (approx 48%) and fuel consumed by plant (46%), necessitating a focus on operational efficiency.

Clearly the industry has only so much plant to go around, and not all of it is energy efficient. The small plant market – generators and lighting columns, for example – is getting more sustainable, with options like power cubes that run on fuel during the day and rechargeable batteries at night, and LED-based lighting. 

Improvements are coming less slowly in the large plant market, and indeed Brewitt noted that well-intentioned legislation is having some perverse consequences – such as Balfour Beatty’s new tampers, bought in 2008, which actually chug through twice as much fuel as the older versions to ensure the engines comply with European standards on particulate pollution.

“You’d think they’d be more fuel efficient compared to the old ones, but in fact they consume almost twice the amount of fuel,” Brewitt said. “We’re trying to alter the gearbox ratios, and we’ve trialled a hydrogen fuel cell on a different piece of equipment with the intention to install it on the tampers.”

But ultimately, reducing the amount of plant used on a given project, wherever possible, has to be the best way to cut emissions, he said.

He admitted that sustainability can be about compromise and balance – other key factors like safety and cost also have to be considered. “You may choose something less fuel efficient for safety reasons, for example. As long as you’ve considered it all and made the right decision, that’s what’s most important, even if the environmental impact specifically might be greater.”

Self-assessment and contractual requirement

Those targets are overseen by a steering group chaired by managing director Mark Bullock, showing how seriously they’re taken at the highest level.

Every six months, each operating company in the group completes a self-assessment and gets a percentage score on a worldwide scale, with Balfour Beatty Rail and most others in the low to mid 70s (some overseas operating companies do less well).

Brewitt’s own background is in environmental management, and he has 14 years at the company under his belt – but he noted that his equivalents at other operating companies within Balfour Beatty are chartered civil engineers, for example, bringing different types of experience to the role.

He noted that in high-rise construction, clients often drive environmental quality, by specifying certain BREEAM ratings and so on. But in rail, that’s only now becoming the case, and it’s often the contractor driving that.

On Crossrail West Outer Electrification, for example, both Balfour Beatty and Crossrail wanted it CEEQUAL-rated (you can find out more about CEEQUAL in the April/May 2014 edition of RTM), but it wasn’t specified explicitly in the tender, so in the end the costs were split halfway. “We drove that and we prompted the question,” Brewitt said.

Other recent contracts – like that for the Crossrail substation works on the existing network – have included sustainability more directly.

Employee engagement

“Communicating sustainability is not a straightforward thing,” Brewitt said. “We don’t want to bombard employees with communications. We have our Zero Harm safety programme and lots of comms geared towards safety, and we have to be careful that people don’t feel overloaded and just switch off. Employees can also be quite critical if they’re told to act in certain ways, if they think the business as a whole isn’t doing something.”

Employees have had training courses and site briefings, while everyone involved in buying anything – including designers, engineers and project managers – has had sustainable procurement e-learning.

“That brings everyone up to a certain level,” Brewitt said, “and employee surveys show 88% of people say they understand what sustainability is and 75% understand what they can do in their role to contribute to sustainability. But there is a long way to go in terms of embedding sustainability completely.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

“The most important thing is to teach the principles, and then people can make the decisions themselves, while considering the impact something could have on cost, other employees, communities and the environment.


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