By Jessica Cairns, Senior Sustainability Advisor, Transurban

Increasing the uptake of sustainable materials across the roads sector is one of the infrastructure sector’s biggest challenges. To tackle this issue, Transurban Queensland and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) recently joined forces to host an industry forum and workshop solutions.

This forum brought together more than 60 representatives from the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Brisbane City Council and Brisbane Airport, as well as key road contractors and materials providers, to look critically at some of the key challenges associated with using sustainable materials in motorway construction.

Significant quantities of resources are consumed to build, operate and deconstruct infrastructure across the globe. In fact, across Australia, there is an estimated $55 billion worth of high priority infrastructure planned, including approximately $8 billion of funding committed to building roads in Queensland over the next five years1.

This presents a considerable opportunity to reduce the environmental and social impact of these upcoming projects, and strong participation in this forum is a positive indicator that there is a real willingness and ability to make some meaningful changes to the way materials are specified and used.

The impact of materials

The impacts of material use go well beyond construction, with potential effects on the environment and communities occurring across the full lifecycle of a project. For example, a typical two-lane bitumen road with an aggregate base can require up to 25,000 tonnes of material per kilometre.

The key stages of a material’s lifecycle are:

Extraction and treatment of raw materials

Product manufacturing

Transport and distribution

Maintenance and replacement requirements

End-of-life requirements to recycle or send materials to landfill

To reduce the overall impacts, stakeholders involved across the full lifecycle need to be engaged and willing to consider alternative design solutions, new and improved products, and different ways of working together to deliver better outcomes.

Industry collaboration

On 29 May 2018, ISCA and Transurban Queensland facilitated a workshop with representatives from across industry and a number of key speakers.

Transurban Queensland Group Executive, Sue Johnson, opened the forum and said Transurban was passionate about bringing industry members together to work through the challenges of sustainable infrastructure.

“We are committed to sustainability across the full lifecycle of our road assets,” Ms Johnson said.

“We’re working to use more sustainable materials in our road projects and are excited to work with industry to explore opportunities to take this much further than what is currently best practice.”

Ms Johnson said the forum was a small but important step forward and Transurban Queensland was committed to continuing to build momentum in this area.

The format of the event was designed to encourage discussion, collaboration and inspire participants to consider solutions and actions for each challenge. Short presentations, delivered by key speakers across a range of different topics, were followed by workshop sessions and action planning across six topics:

Innovation and the relationship with specifications – facilitated by Mike Pickering, Department of Transport and Main Roads

Using sustainable materials in practice – facilitated by Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser

Enabling the supply chain – facilitated by Robin Mellon, The Supply Chain Sustainability School

Balancing risk and innovation – facilitated by Darren Leeson, Jacobs

Collaboration – facilitated by Daniel Baker and Angela Hili, Transurban Queensland

Leadership – facilitated by Kieren Heikkinen, ISCA

Key outcomes

This event included professionals from the public and private sector, and with various technical and non-technical backgrounds. The willingness for 60 professionals to come together and discuss options for overcoming challenges related to sustainable materials is an outcome in itself.

A number of key messages emerged from the workshop:

Message 1: Creative and targeted contract requirements reduce barriers and deliver outcomes

The most consistent and common message was the need to use contract structures, requirements and tender processes, to effectively incentivise sustainability, reduce risk around innovation, encourage open communication and knowledge sharing, and set minimum standards for sustainability performance.

Having clear and measurable requirements for sustainability in a contract will allow the contractor to understand and have adequate time to identify solutions and prepare their response. It also means that the client or project lead agency will have a set of initiatives that can be used to measure performance. The Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating scheme can be used to set minimum requirements and can also be used as a framework to incentivise performance.  

Further assistance in helping the supply chain to understand requirements, and providing adequate support, is necessary to increase the use of sustainability requirements in contracts. Starting engagement early will also help to break down barriers between project parties and create a culture of knowledge sharing and positive decision-making.

Message 2: Performance-based specifications

One of the biggest barriers to implementing new or alternative products is the process required to either adjust road agency specifications, or demonstrate compliance with an already approved specification. Throughout a number of discussions, a need for performance-based specifications was expressed.

Specifications are required to make sure structures are safe, durable and perform as needed. At times, detailed and prescriptive specifications limit the ability for industry to innovate and try new things. Performance-based specifications use performance indicators and standard acceptance criteria to determine the suitability of a product. They do not specify the exact details of any particular product that should be used. For example, they would not prescribe the concrete mix proportions.

This format gives industry greater scope to innovate and, based on the feedback from the forum, is an important aspect for improving the application of sustainable materials and products.

Message 3: Industry collaboration for new and innovative products

Before new or innovative products are implemented on a project, there is usually a significant amount of time where solutions are conceptualised, socialised, tested and trialled. This process requires collaboration and input from stakeholders right across the value chain.

A common question is around ownership and who should drive innovation in this area. If a client doesn’t ask for sustainable options, a contractor may not feel it is their responsibility to invest in and deliver these options. At the same time a client may feel they can’t ask for a specific requirement because they don’t know what is available or possible, along with the associated cost, risk and performance differences.

The solution is for clients, contractors and suppliers to collaborate throughout the innovation process and to actively communicate the costs and benefits of new and alternative products once they have been tested or trialled.

There are a number of challenges related to collaboration, including competitive advantage and the need to protect intellectual property, the fast-paced nature of construction and infrastructure planning, and finally, sometimes there is a lack of desire to do things differently. Industry peak bodies and working groups can play a major role in overcoming many of these challenges. Road agencies can also assist in driving more innovation by leading the charge and setting a policy objective to reduce the impact of materials in construction.

Message 4: Accept failure for innovation

In a sector where failure and mistakes can have catastrophic impacts on life, communities and cities, it is not surprising that overall stakeholders involved in the construction of transport infrastructure are generally risk averse, fearing failure. However, failure can be an essential part of the innovation process and it is equally important for industry to communicate failure, along with success. Participants suggested that a consistent methodology could be used for measuring and monitoring innovation to overcome this particular barrier. More generally, there needs to be a shift in thinking that encourages people to take risks and celebrate the lessons, regardless of outcomes.

Message 5: Education to increase consistency in language and approach

Almost all participants raised the need for greater education and consistency across industry. This also relates to knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Unfortunately, sustainability still comes with many negative connotations across the construction sector. It is often associated with being ‘green’ and ‘doing without’, or sometimes costing a project more money, creating delays and not supporting overall project objectives. The participants agreed that a consistent process for communicating and quantifying the benefits from sustainability initiatives, including new materials and products, is urgently needed to help stakeholders throughout our supply chains understand the drivers behind improving the overall sustainability of the infrastructure sector.

The Supply Chain Sustainability School provides a range of free resources for educating the supply chain around key sustainability requirements and opportunities.

A full report, including a detailed set of findings and next steps will be available on the ISCA website from October. For any further information, contact ISCA or Jessica Cairns directly.

1 Comment
  1. Davis Lester Clarke 3 years ago

    This was a very interesting read,

    Can you please pass on the contact details for Jessica.

    Many thanks
    Davis Lester Clarke

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