Taking a whole-of-business approach to tackle the climate challenge, McConnell Dowell Group has set itself ambitious but achievable targets to be operationally net zero and reduce its direct emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
As part of its recently launched overall strategic plan – Horizon 2030 – McConnell Dowell Group (McConnell Dowell) has established a Carbon Reduction Plan to implement strategies across the business to reduce, or stamp out where possible, the company’s impact on the environment.
With the building and construction sector accounting for 39 per cent of global emissions, according to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, McConnell Dowell is taking action to address the climate crisis.
Within the company’s Carbon Reduction Plan are three overall goals. Firstly, McConnell Dowell has set a target to be operationally net zero by 2030. The plan also includes a target to reduce the business’s direct carbon emissions, those that occur from sources controlled by the company, by 45 per cent. Thirdly, the company aims to implement an ethically sourced offset strategy. While these goals are certainly ambitious, McConnell Dowell environment and sustainability operations manager Tim Walker says everyone in the company, from executive management to those with boots on the ground, is on board.
“I’m very proud to work for a company that has senior management commitment around sustainability and high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards,” says Walker. “Our managing director and executive board have all reviewed and endorsed our Carbon Reduction Plan.”
Developed as a company roadmap, the plan is built on eight strategic focus areas – offices, system improvement, education, fuels, moving plant, light vehicles, stationary plant, materials and travel – and includes 44 carbon reduction initiatives to be rolled out across McConnell Dowell’s operations by 2030. The company has also formed an Environmental Sustainability Committee led by one of its regional general managers to help drive these initiatives. “Overall, we aim to achieve a 45 per cent reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, with the remaining to be offset, by 2030,” says Walker.
Setting plans in motion
In achieving these goals, McConnell Dowell has placed a major focus on reducing its Scope 1 emissions, which are produced by its direct use of fuels.
“We are taking meaningful steps to ensure we can do everything we possibly can to reduce emissions with the current technology that is available,” says Walker. “For instance, we’re already in the process of transitioning our light vehicles to electric, with a goal of 100 per cent of our light vehicle fleet to be electric vehicles by 2030.”
“We currently have three fully electric vehicles and a number of hybrid vehicles within our fleet as well as an electric truck on the way; and are currently in negotiations with our leasing company to get another 40 electric vehicles added to our fleet in the next 12 months.”
Typically, in areas or remote locations where project teams are unable to connect tools and machinery to the mains power, they have to rely on another source of energy to power their equipment, like diesel-powered generators.
Construction is among the leading industries contributing the largest carbon footprint from the use of fossil fuels such as diesel. That’s why McConnell Dowell, in partnership with Black Stump Technologies, has co-created the ‘Solarator’ – a containerised power plant that combines solar panels, batteries and a small diesel-powered generator – which is capable of reducing diesel fuel consumption by up to 80 per cent for the company’s off-grid site facilities. McConnell Dowell estimates that over a 10-year period the units will save over 8,000 tonnes of carbon on its worksites.
“We have five of these power units that have been operating successfully across our business over the last six months,” says Walker. “We will continue to develop strategic partnerships with our supply chain to maximise sustainable outcomes.”
McConnell Dowell is also looking at a number of renewable fuel and biodiesel trials and is currently using biodiesel blends from five per cent up to 50 per cent blends on a number of its projects in Victoria.
“Additionally, we’re about to embark on a 100 per cent renewable fuel trial on a Western Program Alliance project we’re delivering,” says Walker.
Similarly, the company is driving down its Scope 2 emissions, which are produced indirectly from its consumption of purchased electricity. Where feasible, McConnell Dowell is connecting its satellite compounds that are built for infrastructure projects to the electricity grid to remove the need for diesel-powered generators onsite. The company has also set a target to power its head and regional offices on 100 per cent GreenPower.
“By purchasing GreenPower from the grid we are essentially able to offset those carbon emissions that we would otherwise produce,” says Walker. “Placing a focus on our electricity consumption by paying for offsets leads to cultural change through a focus on daily actions such as avoiding electricity consumption through the use of timers, sensor lights, LEDs and other efficient technology.”
Already championing a number of the sustainability initiatives outlined in its Carbon Reduction Plan, McConnell Dowell is pioneering the use of solar technology to power its construction site compounds.
Three years ago, the company capital purchased an 80-kilowatt mobile cantilevered solar system, which was transported via shipping container to a high-profile State Government project, the Level Crossing Removal Project – Western Program Alliance. The grid-connected system was deployed at the site for a period of nine months. During that period, data shows the system:
- Produced 54 megawatts of renewable energy.
- Sent 38 megawatts back to the grid, for the benefit of Victorian households.
- Saved 36 tonnes of CO2 emissions and at zero cost.
The power bill for the site was in credit, and the site achieved the notable milestone of being the first carbon-positive McConnell Dowell site facility during construction.
“We’ve also conducted a number of biodiesel trials and used more solar lights that rely on battery power rather than diesel power on these projects,” says Walker. “We are learning from trials and gaining confidence in deploying new technology across more projects.”
In addition to the company’s 45 per cent reduction by 2030 and operational net zero (Scope 1 and 2) goals, McConnell Dowell targets a year-on-year carbon intensity reduction of at least 5 per cent until 2030. Walker says this is measured across the business’s regions and business units, with carbon intensity calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) tonnes/revenue.
“This allows us to compare carbon intensity per region and project to determine their carbon intensity profile and to double down on strategies to reduce emissions within those regions and projects,” he adds.
The company has also set its sights on tracking Scope 3 emissions through data capture technology and developing a plan specific to the reduction of Scope 3 emissions. These are the emissions the company is indirectly responsible for throughout its value chain, including from travel and the production of purchased materials. “We are also leveraging our digital engineering teams to refine a carbon model of materials early in the design phase, currently being trialled on various projects across Australia and New Zealand,” says Walker.
The company is already making great inroads in implementing recycled and low carbon products – including low carbon concrete mix designs, and the use of recycled plastic products in rail sleepers, asphalt, noise walls and aggregates – across its infrastructure portfolio to reduce its Scope 3 emissions.
The other key part of McConnell Dowell’s Carbon Reduction Plan is in regard to its supply chain – its suppliers and subcontractor workforce. Around 70 per cent of the company’s Scope 1 emission profile is made up of diesel, which is primarily sourced from subcontractors using heavy machinery, excavators, trucks, dozers and the like. “The infrastructure that we build heavily relies on subcontractors,” says Walker. “That’s why in our procurement of those subcontractors, our request for quote templates outline our commitments around sustainability aspirations, carbon reduction and where we as an industry are heading.”
“Without them changing along with us, the industry as a whole won’t change, so we’re building strategic partnerships with our supply chains to lay the foundations for a more sustainable future.”
Further, the company’s sustainability and ESG strategies are embedded in its tender processes, requiring tender teams to address climate change risk and carbon reduction strategies.
Time is critical, says Walker, and the time to act is now, but construction companies can’t make true progress in addressing the sustainability problem in isolation. “Sustainability is about sharing knowledge and coming together to solve the issue that we have in front of us,” says Walker. “We’re smart enough, and we have many solutions on hand, so as an industry it’s time to crack the whip and work together towards a green future.”
McConnell Dowell’s forward-thinking Carbon Reduction Plan shows how a large and diversified construction company can go the extra mile to tackle the climate challenge. With carbon reduction, renewable energy and sustainable building practices set to be a focus for the industry and wider economy in the coming years, McConnell Dowell is blazing a trail for sustainability in construction.