Environmental solutions and the protection of our planet for future generations have always been at the forefront of projects undertaken by Land and Water. James McLean, CEO of leading UK wet civil engineering firm, explains what steps the civil engineering industry can take to clean up its act
Many businesses, particularly those within the construction and civil engineering industries, are under pressure to implement more sustainable practices. The government has challenged all businesses to become net carbon neutral by 2050. The Environment Agency wants to reach this target and aim for net zero by 2030, an objective Land and Water is also striving to meet.
In promoting environmental change within the civil engineering sector, Land & Water has already introduced some innovative sustainable solutions, launched a carbon reduction agenda and added value to the regions in which it operates. Here we look at some important strategic and behavioral changes the civil engineering industry can make to become more environmentally sustainable.
Driven change in the thinking, planning, design and delivery phases
First, to achieve the giant step of becoming net carbon neutral, we need to drive change at every stage of the thinking, planning, design and delivery of each project. It’s about taking smart steps to improve our environment.
At Land & Water, we are constantly evolving our approaches, testing new products, and fine-tuning the performance of our machinery. Our industry needs to put decarbonisation at the top of its agenda; Future generations depend on the decisions we make now.
It’s no secret that the construction and civil engineering industries are major producers of CO2. But this goes beyond diesel consumption, and so it’s time the sector looked to divert its waste as well.
mitigating the effects of climate change
In the early planning stages of each project, here at Land & Water, we consider different ways to reduce our environmental impact at each level. For example, are we even required to complete the project, or can we improve and maintain our waterway and estuary infrastructure differently? Is there any way within this project to support the restoration of nature by reusing spoils and sediments and ultimately mitigating the effects of climate change?
A big part of Land & Water’s ongoing environmental commitment is not only to reduce carbon, but also to add value to the areas where we operate, and protect our planet for years to come. As we retrofit a project, we always look to build in nature and create a habitat that encourages net biodiversity benefits and carbon sequestration at the point that we have breached.
By repurposing waste, we can reduce our reliance on landfill sites, reduce waste – and ultimately emissions – while increasing biodiversity. Being smart and forward-thinking, while following the rules when it comes to reusing scrap and perishable materials, can result in huge environmental improvements.
Since 2015, Land and Water has been working with the Port of London Authority (PLA), RSPB and Natural England to use redundant, non-hazardous materials to create landforms along the East London Corridor. This collaboration will see us operationalize 152 hectares of silt lagoons by 2042, resulting in over six million tonnes of wet and dry perishable material being recycled and 1,000,000m2 of valuable habitat created. This is real ‘natural capital’ being created at no cost to the taxpayer.
Making offshore waste removal more sustainable
We are also looking for a change in behavior with respect to offshore waste removal. Currently, 99.5% of coastal dredged material is being disposed of offshore by dredging contractors, and this needs to change. Not only can this harm wildlife, but it also has potentially detrimental effects for our sea beds and sensitive sea-scape habitats.
Sea level rise, high intensity storm events as well as increased boat traffic, and the removal of sediment (by dredging) from local estuarine “cells” are all negatively affecting our sensitive coastal habitats.
Compared to the 1946 aerial photographic record there has been a significant impact on seagrass meadows and sensitive inter-tidal habitats, including salt marshes, where we can demonstrate a loss of over 50% of habitat in parts of the south coast Huh. It is time for civil engineering and construction contractors to acknowledge their role in this outcome.
protecting shorelines from coastal flooding with salt marshes
Salt marshes are important for protecting our shorelines and reducing flooding. They are also highly efficient absorbers of nitrates and phosphates and are seven times more efficient at absorbing CO2 than woodlands (per hectare). This means that they are a vital component to a carbon net zero strategy and provide nutrient neutrality and biodiversity benefits, as well as being an integral part of coastal defense against storm surges.
Land & Water is proud to announce that it is working with the Chichester Harbor Conservancy and Lymington Harbor Commissioners to conduct a full-scale trial next winter to recover over 10,000 square meters of salt marsh .
This is part of our commitment to using salt marshes as well as vacant and abandoned land to transform them into high-value ecosystems. We have also designed and built a special piece of new equipment, developed to help carefully transport the dredged sediment from ocean-going vessels into the receding salt marshes above Mean High Water.
We sincerely hope that our trials will help validate the use of new technologies to help replace historical practices and play our part in the responsible use of the planet’s resources to promote the restoration of nature.
Land & Water prides itself on delivering a circular economy model in everything it does and this is one way the company can ensure it is safeguarding our environmental future for years to come.