A sustainable roadway operation is complicated and is much more than just counting a carbon footprint. It’s about ensuring the road network is resilient when environmental disasters strike, said Josef Fiala, president of Asecap, the European association of toll road operators.
In his opening presentation to Asecap’s 2nd Sustainability Forum he pointed out that, while doing all this, infrastructure must continue to be safer for road users, no matter what type of vehicle is being driven.
Fiala, who is also chief financial officer of Asfinag, Austria’s publicly-owned operator of motorways and toll roads, praised the commitment and efforts of European toll road operators to push ahead the sustainability agenda in every area - even when it might mean less revenue thanks to things like encouraging car sharing. In this way, he said, Asecap members are exemplars of social responsibility.
Similarly, Asecap members must build infrastructure to accommodate the increase in vehicles using alternate fuels such as electricity and – albeit less so at the moment – hydrogen.
But a sustainable operation can be achieved only if entire value chains are involved. It is about the bigger picture, he emphasised, which was a dominant theme among many of the presenters.
“I think it is fair to say sustainable road transport will mean something different in the future than it means today”
Barbara Thaler, European Parliament
Barbara Thaler, Austrian Member of the European Parliament, sounded a cautious note about expectations for attaining a sustainable operation. “I am a bit hesitant to embrace this new bright shiny green future,” said Thaler, who serves on the EU parliament’s committee on transport and tourism. Good regulations will be essential as operators reach for sustainability goals and the parliament is struggling at the moment to deliver on this.
She believes, meanwhile, that the internal combustion engine will stay, but the fuel will change. Thaler referred to the global dash for control of rare minerals that go into the production of batteries and fuel cells; the production and uptake of such energy sources will not be a smooth, linear path. This adds to the challenges faced by toll operators because they cannot predict the rates of their increased use in order to prepare infrastructure to better serve road users.
Also, given the impact of high energy prices on Europe as a whole, she commented: “I think it is fair to say sustainable road transport will mean something different in the future than it means today.”
Supply chain sustainability
Whatever path to sustainability is taken in whatever sector, a complete supply chain must be involved, said the keynote speaker of the day, Thomas Hoormann, managing director of Polestar Austria – a division of Polestar, a high-end electric vehicle manufacturer owned by Swedish OEM Volvo Cars. Chinese vehicle manufacturer Geely has a majority stake in Volvo Cars and Polestar cars are manufactured at Geely’s plant in Chengdu, China but sold globally.
Importantly, a sustainability path must have “absolute transparency” and involve the entire supply chain, a big issue for any manufacturer, said Hoormann. It will be tough for Polestar, too. In the company’s recently published Polestar 0 project, the manufacturer aims to make a “truly climate-neutral car by 2030”. Polestar wants to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions – from cradle to factory gate to end-of-life of a vehicle. However, the challenge is immense, he said. One Polestar vehicle has 50,000 component and requires thousands of deliveries from hundreds of suppliers.
The life-cycle aspect of the Polestar 0 project is a good takeaway from Hoormann’s presentation, said Andrew Fremier, president of IBTTA – the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association: “A company that is actually thinking about the entire picture, I find very exciting.” This includes sustainable disposal of depleted batteries.
However, Gerhard Christiner, chief technical officer of Austrian Power Grid, acknowledged that for sustainability strategies, the prospect of getting 100% renewable electricity, although essential, is still a long way off.
Anouar Benazzouz, president of IRF - the International Road Federation, a global, not-for-profit organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland - noted that whatever sustainable transport looks like, safety of vehicle drivers and the design of safe of roads must remain paramount. “And we should not be American- or European-centric,” he insisted, but get everybody, everywhere around the table to talk about the issues and best examples to create concrete actions.
European Green Deal
The European Green Deal, said Kristian Schmidt, director of land transport for the European Commission, has an intermediate objective by 2030 of a 55% reduction of GHG (greenhouse gas) levels compared to 1990s levels. He said the transport sector contributes around 5% of European GDP and employs mainly 10 million people. “It is the backbone of the [European] single market. At the same time it is responsible for around a quarter of total EU emissions and is one of the sectors where emissions are higher now than in the 1990s,” he said.
For the transport sector to decarbonise, Schmidt said fossil fuels must be phased out and the EU’s regulatory framework is there to help. The expansion and upgrade of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) continues to reduce traffic bottlenecks to ensure reliable connectivity from country to country. New TEN-T regulations will cater for the availability of alternative fuels along the entire network.
The alternative fuel infrastructure regulation recently agreed at EU level will set mandatory recharging and refuelling availability targets to reflect the increasing uptake of vehicles using such fuels. From 2025, there will be specific distances set between refuelling stations along the TEN-T network. The EU Commission has also agreed to set aside €1.5 billion in funding for motorway operators to help them reach these targets.
Schmidt said that the cross-county Eurovignette tolling system for drivers will, from next year, be set to incentivise drivers of cleaner vehicles.
In a later panel discussion, Diego Galletta, data protection officer at concessionaire company Autostrada per l’Italia, agreed that a pollution-based toll pricing system could change driver behaviour. He also noted that road operators should push themselves to produce detailed yearly sustainability reports, as his company has done. These reports can help bring in new investors to the company and specific projects.
Concessionaires should start as early as the procurement process to work with suppliers, said Galletta, in order to understand a product’s carbon footprint but also to discuss how to use less of a product where reductions can be achieved.
"A company that is actually thinking about the entire picture, I find very exciting"
Andrew Fremier, IBTTA
Ulli Vielhaber, sustainability manager with Asfinag, reminded the attendees of the importance of ESG reporting, the measurement and disclosure of a company’s environmental, social and governance data. Its main purpose is to offer transparency and show that the company is working towards its goals.
For Asfinag, this includes noise abatement systems along its road network and water enhancement programmes along the network’s corridors, not to mention tree planting schemes to maintain visual acceptance of projects. Good ESG reporting means keeping a close eye on data which can give a company an early alert to any risks arising from environmental issues. An ESG report is about managing that risk.
Shooting a moving target
Franco Caruso, head of sustainability at Brisa, Portugal’s largest highway concessionaire, pointed out that aiming at sustainability targets is like shooting a moving target. The company’s operations include working towards a circular economy – to reduce waste, recycle and boost environmental protection. But, for example, while a company’s electricity consumption can go down, CO₂ emissions can go up because of the source of the electricity. Similarly, said Caruso - for the moment at least - if traffic volumes go up, so will emission counts. No one can predict the exact uptake of less polluting emissions, which are not under the control of a concessionaire.
Measuring and reporting Scope 3 emissions remains the big win for a concessionaire, if done properly, according to Claus Frelle-Petersen, sustainability director for Denmark’s Sund & Bælt, an infrastructure operator with experience of building and maintaining some of the world’s largest bridge and tunnel links (see box). Measuring Scope 3 emissions will have to start, as several other speakers also said, at the procurement stage when engaging suppliers. At that point it must be made clear to a supplier what environmental data your company will need and – importantly – presented in what format so it is readable to the procuring company.
It might be, added Frelle-Petersen, that to pull this off successfully, there will need to be a “change management exercise” within a procuring organisation. They must have the skills to organise and manage a supply chain with Stage 3 emission goals in mind.
Nicolas Miravalls, founder and chief executive of Oris, a materials intelligence company based in France, recently produced an ESG report for its own operations. The company was set up by Swiss materials and aggregates business Holcium as an dependent entity in 2021 after incubation in Holcium’s Innovation Center in Lyon, France. As noted by Frelle-Petersen, Miravalls said concessionaires must be willing to share and understand increasing complex data along the value chain. To do this more efficiently, he said concessionaire companies should consider setting up digital twins of their operations which can include supplier data input. In many sectors a digital twin is now imperative to maintaining up-to-data knowledge of their asset, no matter what that asset is.
Know your emissions!
• Scope 1 emissions Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that a company creates directly from its daily operations, for example emissions from operating a building’s boilers and fleets of vehicles.
• Scope 2 emissions Indirect emissions from products or services that a company buys in, such as electricity it needs for heating and ventilation of the company’s buildings.
• Scope 3 emissions This is the basket into which goes all the emissions associated directly and indirectly with the company and its operations, such as produced by the organisation’s value or supply chain; this is most complicated to manage efficiently and to report in detail.