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SteelZero Q&A member series: Robert Bird Group

3 November 2023, 16:45 UTC 4 min read

In this blog series, we speak to our members of SteelZero - the growing global network of businesses committing to buy and use 50% low emission steel by 2030, setting a clear pathway to using 100% net zero steel by 2050 at the latest.

Jason Langer (Group Managing Director - Projects) from Robert Bird Group spoke to us about why the company joined SteelZero, and what they want to see from global policymakers as we look ahead to COP28.

Why did Robert Bird Group decide to join SteelZero?

We decided to join SteelZero because we use steel very regularly. Around the world, Robert Bird Group develops tall buildings, sports stadiums and other large infrastructure projects, where steel is one of the most common materials. 

The climate crisis is immediate and critical. What’s more, the construction and property industry’s carbon footprint contributes significantly to rising temperatures.

"As a result, we saw joining SteelZero as the best opportunity for us to collaborate with other businesses that also want to reduce their emissions. I’m happy to say that being part of SteelZero has been exactly what we’d hoped for."

How do you plan to meet SteelZero’s emissions targets (50% low emission steel by 2030, and 100% net zero steel by 2050)?

At Robert Bird Group, we work on ways to design buildings that generate fewer embodied carbon emissions. We also look at how we can develop construction methodologies that generate less carbon throughout the entire construction process. Finally, and crucially, we are exploring ways to design buildings so that they are reusable and recyclable over multiple lifetimes.

By 2050 and beyond, Robert Bird Group will keep carbon emissions and embodied carbon low by working with steel manufacturers and fabricators to decarbonise the entire process: from design through to construction, all the way to use and then re-use.

Societally, we already recycle plastics, paper, cardboard and metal. But this requires us to break down materials to their constituent parts and then remake them - a process which is also carbon-intensive.

Unlike concrete and other materials, steel is far easier to recycle. That’s why Robert Bird Group has developed Autobox, a new recyclable building system, which enables us to cut embodied carbon in buildings by up to 75%. This technology makes whole buildings - not just their core materials - recyclable multiple times over.

What are the opportunities for green steel in the US and beyond?

Here in the US, there is a massive opportunity. 

First and foremost, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) focuses on two areas. One is energy usage at the domestic housing level (introducing solar panels into homes, for example). The other is large infrastructure projects such as roads and airports, and the potential for green steel here is enormous.

Taking the latter first, there are approximately 150 airports in the US that all require upgrades or expansions in the next 10 years. Low carbon steel presents a valuable opportunity for the airports of America to deliver on their expansion plans, while simultaneously achieving low carbon emissions.

Back on the domestic housing level, one of the climate emergency’s most urgent challenges is the increased number of extreme weather events. This particularly affects the south and south east of the US, which is experiencing more severe hurricanes than ever before.

When these hurricanes hit, entire towns can be wiped out. This is largely because infrastructure built in the last 150-200 years is simply not designed to withstand increased wind speeds.

Again, green steel can be used to design and build new housing that can withstand such extreme weather. Not only would we save carbon, but we would also save on the eye-watering cost of replacing destroyed buildings after every severe hurricane.

With these steps being taken, we can begin to imagine living in modular steel, low carbon houses with solar panels, on roads that are going to survive the next extreme weather event. All of a sudden, the future looks infinitely brighter and more sustainable.

How have your customers and suppliers responded to your membership of SteelZero?

Their reaction has been extremely positive.

People respond in one of two ways when we tell them that Robert Bird Group is a member of SteelZero.

The first response is: ‘So are we!’ It’s encouraging that businesses are keen to be vocal about their SteelZero membership.

The second response is: ‘That sounds interesting, what is SteelZero?’ We then have an opportunity to explain what the coalition is, and how we’re collectively bringing together the best minds and innovation to get to net zero steel as fast as possible in a coordinated, collaborative way.

What would you like to see from global policymakers as we head towards COP28?

Governments around the world need to be change-enablers. The way business is conducted right now is down to economic efficiency. So, if policymakers want an industry to change, they must introduce new conditions that create a new ‘best economic answer’, allowing businesses to decarbonise without jeopardising profit.

It’s 2023 now. We are seven years away from 2030, when we want to hit a 50% reduction in emissions. Over the next seven years, governments must multiply the economic incentives that can drive down the entire steel industry’s carbon emissions.

What would your message be to other businesses that are interested in joining SteelZero?

Do it. Join SteelZero. Be part of a multisector effort to decarbonise the steel industry. We have no other choice but to decarbonise, and we can do it together.

Robert Bird Group is a specialist structural, civil and construction engineering consultancy with over 700 employees across 11 global offices. Learn more about our SteelZero initiative.