Designing for Low Whole-Life Carbon


  1. What is Designing for Low Whole-Life Carbon – Decarbonisation Programme Workstream 13?
  2. Carbon terminology explained
  3. Examples of capital carbon
  4. Examples of operational carbon
  5. Why is whole-life carbon reduction important to Network Rail?
  6. Promoting innovative carbon reduction (the Carbon Innovation Hopper)


1.   What is Designing for Low Whole-Life Carbon – Decarbonisation Programme Workstream 13?

Workstream 13 (WS13) – ‘Designing for low whole-life carbon, low whole-life cost infrastructure’ encompasses a range of change management activities to position low whole-life carbon outcomes more prominently in Network Rail’s culture, ways of working, and decision-making when designing and building new infrastructure.

Note: Infrastructure includes any physical structures, buildings and assets that directly or indirectly support the operation of the business and railway network.

Workstream 13 activities will include:

  • Promoting and supporting innovation and pilot schemes that demonstrate carbon reduction
  • Integrating best practice low carbon requirements into Network Rail’s core business processes
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for those who can influence low carbon outcomes
  • Establishing competence frameworks and plans to enable staff to deliver low carbon outcomes
  • Providing tools, information and data needed to support this business transformation
  • Promoting the value chain collaboration and capability needed for delivering low carbon outcomes
  • Benchmarking our carbon management processes with respected external schemes i.e. BREEAM, CEEQUAL, PAS 2080, MaGIC, etc.


  • BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology
  • CEEQUAL – Civil Engineering Environmental Quality assessment scheme
  • PAS 2080 – Publicly Available Specification 2080:2016 – Managing Carbon in Infrastructure
  • MaGIC – Marginal Gains in Construction

WS13 Goals

Within 5 years, Network Rail aims to:

    • establish low whole-life carbon emissions as a core requirement and success factor for the design and construction of new infrastructure
    • integrate best practice carbon quantification and decision making into the key business processes for design and construction of new infrastructure
    • have a competent workforce capable of applying whole-life carbon management techniques as business as usual (BAU)
    • have a value chain that is capable and incentivised to deliver quantified low whole-life carbon infrastructure as a key project outcome.

Within 10 years, Network Rail aims to:

    • be demonstrating world class leadership in whole-life carbon management during the design and construction of new infrastructure
    • be routinely providing quantified carbon data from design and construction of rail infrastructure to support reporting against Network Rail’s carbon reduction targets.

WS13 Scope

In Scope:

  • WS13 is an enabling workstream focussed on establishing and integrating processes and methodologies for improved carbon management into BAU activities, such as procurement, design, and construction. This will include elements of external benchmarking, R&D support, and publicising best practise achievements from across the business.

Out of Scope:

    • WS13 alone cannot be accountable for carbon reduction across the business. This must be achieved by local teams applying the skills, procedures and resources to deliver carbon reduction outcomes.

2.   Carbon terminology explained:

Like many disciplines carbon management includes a range of unique terminology. Here are a few of the key terms to understand:

Scope 1 carbon emissions (derived from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol)

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion in boilers or fleet vehicles under direct control of Network Rail.

Scope 2 carbon emissions (derived from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol)

Carbon emissions associated with Network Rail’s consumption of electricity purchased from an electricity provider. The scale of electricity consumption is directly managed by Network Rail but the carbon emissions are indirect via the third party electricity generating organisation.

Scope 3 carbon emissions (derived from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol)

All other non-Scope 1 or 2 carbon emissions directly or indirectly arising from running and growing Network Rail’s business. This includes all carbon emissions associated with creating, managing, servicing, maintaining, and disposing of business infrastructure. These emissions substantially occur within value chain activities but are still linked to Network Rail’s overall carbon footprint.

Capital carbon (derived from PAS 2080:2016 – ‘Managing carbon in infrastructure’)

All carbon and other GHG emissions associated with designing and building infrastructure. These activities are capital or CAPEX funded and emissions are substantially from value chain activities. Capital carbon also includes end-of-life treatment of infrastructure because these are also CAPEX funded and substantially value chain activities.

Carbon dioxide equivalent CO2e

The standardised unit for comparing the warming impact of mixed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and normalising that impact to the equivalent quantity of pure carbon dioxide (CO2).

Embodied carbon (derived from PAS 2080:2016 – ‘Managing carbon in infrastructure’)

Carbon and other GHG emissions specifically associated with the creation of construction materials and products; from harvesting raw materials, processing and manufacture. Typically embodied carbon is defined up the point that products leave the manufacturer’s factory gates so the term cradle-to-gate is sometimes applied.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

A factor describing the atmospheric warming impact of one mass-based unit of a given greenhouse gas (GHG). Because carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant GHG by volume other GHGs are assigned GWP factors relative to an equivalent single unit of CO2 over a given period of time. For example methane (CH4) has a GWP of 25 compared to an equivalent single unit of CO2 over a given period of time.

Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)

Gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, arising from both natural and man-made sources, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere, and clouds and in so doing cause warming of the atmosphere. The UNFCC Kyoto Protocol recognises six main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Because carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant GHG by volume we generally use the term ‘carbon’ as short-hand for CO2 and other Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gases.

Operational carbon (derived from PAS 2080:2016 – ‘Managing carbon in infrastructure’)

All carbon and other GHG emissions associated with operating, maintaining and servicing business infrastructure after construction and throughout its operational life up to the point it is decommissioned. Typically these activities are OPEX funded and include both Network Rail and value chain emissions. Sometimes complicated because major maintenance activities may be CAPEX funded and therefore strictly classified as capital carbon.

For further information on Network Rail’s management of operational carbon please go to the Energy and Carbon homepage.

Whole-life carbon

The total of all direct and indirect carbon and GHG emissions across the entire life of business infrastructure – from creation to decommissioning and disposal.

3.   Examples of capital carbon:

Capital carbon includes carbon and GHG emissions from the following types of construction / demolition activities:


·         Site utilities consumption


·         Embodied carbon in construction materials and products


·         Fuel use by site plant and equipment


·         Transport logistics for incoming materials and outgoing waste


·         Transport logistics for plant and machinery


·         Travel of workers

With such a range of emissions it is important to be clear and transparent about which activities or aspects have been included or excluded when compiling and reporting capital carbon assessments.

4.   Examples of operational carbon:

Operational carbon includes carbon and GHG emissions from the following types of asset management activities:


·         Operational utilities consumption


·         Embodied carbon in maintenance materials and operational consumables


·         Fuel use by vehicles and plant for operations and maintenance


·         Transport logistics for incoming materials and outgoing waste


·         Travel of workers and maintenance contractors

5.   Why is whole-life carbon important to Network Rail?

Network Rail has aligned to the UK Government commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This includes the scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions that we directly control or influence from fossil fuel combustion or electricity consumption, but also embraces all the scope 3 indirect carbon emissions linked to activities undertaken by other parties to support the management and growth of our business, such as the whole-life design, construction, upkeep and end of life fate of rail infrastructure.

In 2013 the government-led Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) estimated that national infrastructure accounts for over half the UK emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. 30% of infrastructure emissions are directly attributable to the construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of infrastructure (e.g. capital carbon and operational carbon combined) – these emissions come under the direct control of infrastructure asset owners / managers and their supply chain. The remaining 70% of carbon emissions are attributed to users of the infrastructure, meaning infrastructure asset managers have influence but do not have direct control of these emissions.

Carbon emissions are a good general indicator of effort and efficiency so looking at ways to reduce carbon will often reveal opportunities for other beneficial changes and lean improvements. Network Rail can benefit from attention to whole-life carbon efficiency in a number of ways.

Direct benefits:

  • Reduced use of materials and other valuable resources
  • Improved efficiency of processes and process logistics
  • Drive upfront decision-making that delivers longer term business returns
  • Reduction in overall costs


Indirect benefits:

  • Demonstrate commitment to government net carbon reduction goals to tackle climate change and leave a positive legacy for future generations;
  • Recognition and enhanced reputation for achievements in sustainable development;
  • Increased investor confidence for infrastructure developments with proven cost efficiency and sustainability credentials;
  • Promoting collaboration and innovation in the infrastructure value chain to deliver efficient and sustainable outcomes;
  • Attracting and retaining talented, high performing people with the skills and enthusiasm to deliver changes that are of benefit to society, and communities served by infrastructure.

To deliver these benefits Network Rail projects should routinely include whole-life carbon assessment in working planning and decision-making.

6.   Promoting innovative carbon reduction

We need to act now to stimulate innovation and collaboration to reduce whole-life carbon emissions during the design and delivery of new rail infrastructure.

In April 2020 we opened a new initiative called the Carbon Innovation Hopper to promote ideas for reducing the whole-life carbon footprint of new or replacement rail infrastructure.   The Carbon Innovation Hopper ‘open’ window has been extended to 10th July 2020. During the open window Network Rail staff will be encouraged to propose any ideas that challenge conventional approaches to the design and construction of rail infrastructure, such as use of alternative low carbon materials/products, changes in the design of key infrastructure elements, lean improvements to processes or process logistics, etc. The most interesting ideas where a significant, scalable carbon reduction seems viable will be nominated for funding from the Decarbonisation Programme to help progress from an idea to a new way of working. It’s a bit like a ‘Dragon’s Den’ but with a specific focus on infrastructure carbon reduction.

Types of funding support

Funding could be available for the following activities although restrictions may apply:

    • Technical research/feasibility studies into novel changes to current BAU practise.
    • Contributions towards engineering acceptance testing and certification of low carbon options to prove viability in a railway environment.
    • Changes to NR standards to accelerate the adoption of new practises.
    • Advance procurement of reduced carbon products for free provision to the business during the period of transition towards new policies and technical standards.

How to submit a request for funding to explore an innovative option for reducing carbon

To submit an idea please complete the Carbon Innovation Funding Request (CIFR) form template available in the attachments to the right of this text. The CIFR collates information enabling the idea to be assessed so please complete all parts of the form.

Please send completed forms to by 10 July 2020.

How will carbon innovation funding requests be evaluated?

We are establishing a process to fairly and objectively assess which options to support. This is explained in a CIFR Protocol document that can also be viewed in the Environment & Sustainable Development Safety Central site.

The overriding requirement is that a proposal must show a persuasive case that the following four tests will be met:

  1. There would be no increase in safety or health risk or reduction in life-cycle performance of the asset;
  2. The innovation would reduce carbon across the whole-life of the asset;
  3. Once adopted as standard practise the carbon reduction innovation would also deliver a net neutral or reduced cost across the whole-life of the asset to which it applies;
  4. The carbon and cost savings would be achieved each time this new solution was applied and would therefore deliver a cumulative benefit compared to the previous method. After the Carbon Innovation Hopper closes on 10 July 2020 the assessment of CIFR submissions will take place in phases. An initial review will check the submission for completeness and that carbon reduction opportunities seem feasible. The initial review may require clarifications from the person who submitted the CIFR. Most CIFR submissions will then progress to a panel review to rank the scale of carbon benefits against the level of investment, and any associated risks. Funding proposals will be made once the ranking exercise is complete.

Where significant funding is proposed a CIFR proposal would need to be presented to the Decarbonisation Programme Board for endorsement and the STE Investment Panel for release of funding.

Key contacts:

For general enquiries, please email

For specific enquiries, please email Clive Jones.

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