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From blueprints to greenprints – our environmental crossroads in NZ construction

We Need to Talk About Kevin was a kick**** thriller about the stand-off between a mother and her troubled child. Possibly not on the same scale, but our New Zealand roading sector has a stand-off of a different kind playing out – and we certainly need to have some more mature conversations.

I’m referring to the major disconnect between our sector’s aspiration to take a more sustainable approach to road construction and surfacing versus the willingness to make it happen.

At Fulton Hogan we’ve been investing in the means to design and manufacture Reduced Energy Asphalt (REA™) for a number of years now. REA™ mixes reduce carbon emissions, by lowering the production temperature from around 160°C to as low as 95°C without affecting the compactability, performance or make-up of the mix itself.

We’ve taken our steer from the US market where almost 60% of surfacing solutions are in form of warm mix asphalts. It’s tried, tested and true there for over 20 years – so what’s the hold up here?

Practically every tender we respond to asks us to say how we will reduce carbon emissions. So far so good and we’re totally onboard with that. But when the rubber hits the road, we often find that the lower carbon solution is the first to be taken off the table in the inevitable risk analysis and value engineering that follows.

But if ever there’s a time to try something different, it’s now. Eight years ago, Christchurch International Airport tried something different with our Plastiphalt® surfacing solution, taking 3,100 used 5-litre plastic oil containers out of circulation and reducing the carbon footprint and waste to landfill. By taking a creative approach to risk sharing, eight years on we are looking at a real win for the Airport.

So, what are the barriers to adopting lower carbon solutions? Some of it is about price, but mostly it’s about risk. Where it often goes west is with technical teams or external advisors, who like the comfort of procuring against what they perceive as ‘safe and proven’ technical specifications.

This is where the mature conversations need to come in – scale is critical to lower boundaries. The more that REA™ or similar innovative products are specified, the quicker industry can adapt and the risk bogeyman exits the room. Let’s talk about risk and explore solutions to share it. We’re open to that conversation. And let’s also talk about opportunity, leadership and letting engineers be engineers again.

Levi Jeans, Coca-Cola and the Kardashians all seem to have made their way from America without too much trouble. Not as ‘exciting’ I know, but we need to give warm mix asphalts more of a whirl too.

– Bevan Sandison, General Manager Engineering Solutions, Fulton Hogan

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