he Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy (TIES) Living Lab is a project that myself and colleagues at Accelar Ltd have been working on for the last two years. Here’s what it’s about and what we’ve learnt.
The TIES Living Lab is a collaboration between 25 partners including Government, i3P and the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) which uses data, technology and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) within live transport infrastructure projects to deliver significant benefits – whether that’s making them more productive, helping to standardise the adoption of new technology, or delivering maximum environmental and social value.
Funded via a grant from Innovate UK and its Transforming Construction Programme, as well as through contributions from the Department for Transport, HS2, Transport for London, Network Rail and National Highways, TIES Living Lab is supporting infrastructure project improve performance across the board.
As the environment lead on the analytical consortium, my organisation and EIC member Accelar is focusing on carbon, circular economy, biodiversity and climate resilience. We’ve have been working with Living Lab partners to better understand what data they already collect on each environmental theme, and whether it is possible to create performance benchmarks from that information. We are working with colleagues from the wider analytical consortium (Whole Life Costing Ltd, University of Leeds, University of the West of England and University of Dundee) to address these key environmental themes alongside more traditional insights on cost, quality and schedule.
The first lesson that we’ve learned is that the levels of awareness of the need for environmental performance improvement within the infrastructure sector since the start of the Living Lab have increased exponentially. This, coupled with new policies in this space, including the new Environment Act, has created a recognition for the sector that doing ‘less bad’ is no longer good enough. If the sector is to contribute to this vital decade of green transformation required to support the UK to reach its net zero carbon and other nature based aspirations, it needs to work harder to reduce its impact and be part of the solution.
Having learnt so much from the TIES Living Lab project, Accelar is now translating the ideas created within the project into new propositions for the infrastructure industry to accelerate its sustainability journey. Clare Ollerenshaw, Accelar
Secondly, we’ve had a clear reminder (how could we forget!) about the importance of bringing experts together to make collective progress. As part of the Living Lab, we’ve bought together and facilitated a community of practice for each of the environmental themes. These communities of practice bring together subject matter experts from across the TIES parties (Transport for London, Network Rail, National Highways, HS2 and East West Rail) and it’s been about more than the initial data sharing and benchmarking that the project required (although that’s really important) – it’s been about shared learning, experience, practical solutions and providing sector wide responses to the challenges of the day. And doing all this in an environment where members feel safe to share and where carving out time for the community of practice pays dividends in positive impacts.
By working with the communities of practice, we’ve made progress in each of the environmental themes, with a different flavour to each. Since the TIES Living Lab started in May 2020, carbon performance metrics are now mandatory but there’s still a lot of work to do to get organisations reporting in a way that could be usefully compared. Circular economy’s a concept that keeps materials and products at their highest value for as long as possible, through design, re-use and remanufacture. Through the community of practice, TIES Living Lab organisations are sharing what’s worked for them, saving carbon, time and money. The biodiversity community of practice is responding to the upcoming requirement on infrastructure organisations to deliver 10% net gain on each project. Climate resilience is a vital topic to infrastructure organisations. TIES Living Lab organisation subject matter experts have been working together through the CoP to understand how they can start to measure climate resilience in a consistent, practical way going forward.
As well as developing a set of agreed metrics to simplify benchmarking, Accelar has been analysing the Living Lab data to better understand performance drivers including cost, whole-life carbon measurement and management, and procurement. Accelar has developed some useful tools and approaches to support TIES parties in measuring and driving improved environmental performance. Our final lesson learned is that it will require a whole suite of approaches and knowledge to drive improvement. Also, understanding which tool to use when whilst enabling interfaces between the different tools organisations already in use will be critical.
Having learnt so much from the TIES Living Lab project, Accelar is now translating the ideas created within the project into new propositions for the infrastructure industry to accelerate its sustainability journey. These include the insights provided by having granular carbon data to benchmark performance and quantifying the scale of the opportunity that low carbon materials can offer all types of construction and infrastructure projects.
As an SME, the TIES Living Lab project has given us the space and opportunity to explore how carbon, circular economy, biodiversity and climate resilience are being represented, understood and acted on by infrastructure clients and their supply chains. Accelar looks forward to continuing to work in this space, alongside many of these organisations, to support the infrastructure sector to be an important part of the solution to the climate crisis.
Chris Fry, Managing Director of Accelar, will be speaking at a TIES Living Lab online conference in early July. Find out more at the TIES Living Lab website.