By Ainsley Simpson, CEO, Infrastructure Sustainability Council

The first aqueduct built for Sydney’s water network in 130-plus years is more than an engineering marvel. Constructed at Sydenham to support the city’s new driverless trains and the local flood management system, it was delivered by a project team determined to think differently about infrastructure.

Careful analysis and clever design allowed the aqueduct to be downsized, saving 7,500 tonnes of carbon emissions, while cutting construction costs, demolition waste and energy usage. The joint venture between John Holland and Laing O’Rourke demonstrated exceptional leadership in environmental sustainability. But their legacy is a new governance structure that doesn’t just give permission to question the status quo, but to actively encourage that questioning.

This is just one of many inspiring examples of leadership on display at the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (IS) 2022 Gala Awards night, a celebration and centrepiece of the three-day Connect conference in early October.

Another joint venture, this time between Acciona, Samsung C&T Corporation and Bouygues Construction, was applauded for developing a world-first shotcrete application process for lining Sydney’s M4-M5 Link tunnels.

The project has driven down embodied carbon emissions by more than 33,000 tonnes, while cutting materials usage by 15 per cent, removing 9,000 heavy vehicle movements from Sydney roads and demonstrating cost savings of an eye-watering $11 million. This brilliant idea has transformed the way future tunnel projects will be designed and constructed.

These are just two powerful illustrations of why, in the decade of decarbonisation, we must turn our attention to delivery. And this message – of not just pledging climate targets but providing the proof – became a common thread throughout the three days of Connect.

The IS Rating Scheme is now driving sustainable outcomes on nearly $220 billion of infrastructure projects on both sides of the Tasman. But 70 per cent of our emissions are enabled by infrastructure. We are beyond the point of platitudes. 

The challenge to the audience at Connect was clear: “Don’t just pledge it. Don’t just promise it. Prove it.”

Tania Smith, ANZ’s Director of Sustainable Finance. Image courtesy of IS Council.

Tania Smith, ANZ’s Director of Sustainable Finance. Image courtesy of IS Council.

The audience of 500-plus people, each thrilled to connect in person after nearly three years of online collaboration, gained many powerful proof points of how industry transformation is decarbonising at speed and scale.

We heard about the blistering pace of innovation among the team at Fortescue Future Industries. Trials for the world’s first regenerating battery electric iron ore train, testing of a hydrogen-powered haul truck and plans for one of the world’s largest renewable energy powered electrolysers are just three of the dozens of groundbreaking projects underway. 

We heard about the rapid transformation of the electricity grid. Boosting the proportion of renewable energy in the grid to 82 per cent by 2030 – a key pillar of the Australian Government’s Rewiring the Nation plan – is an “unprecedented challenge”, Transgrid’s Project Director Stephen Troughton told the audience. But Transgrid is stepping up to this challenge by using the IS Rating Scheme to guide the delivery of network infrastructure that, laid end to end, will stretch from Sydney to London and almost back.

We heard about the NBN – among Australia’s top 50 electricity consumers – which will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025. About KPMG’s brilliant EV Insights and Analytics platform, developed to inform the monumental task of electrifying our fleet. And about the enormous efforts underway across insurance and financial markets to better measure and manage climate risk. 

“The financial services sector is finally listening,” Tania Smith, ANZ’s Director of Sustainable Finance, told Connect’s audience. This is certainly a cause for celebration, because when the money moves, markets move with it.

Our sector’s charge towards sustainability is gathering pace – but we can’t leave anyone behind. I am particularly proud of the industry’s efforts to embed reconciliation and recognition of First Nations people into all that we do. 

Main Roads Western Australia, honoured with an industry impact award during the conference, has spent $97.9 million on Aboriginal businesses, equating to 586,700 work hours, in the last 12 months alone. This shows us what is possible when we think differently about infrastructure delivery.

We also learnt about the Olympic-size opportunity to upskill the infrastructure sector in sustainability between now and 2032. The Olympics can also help us to reframe the way we think about accessibility and equality as we build a climate positive legacy that remains long after the last race has been run.

Conferences are notoriously difficult to capture in words. How can you convey the camaraderie that boosts confidence, the esprit de corps that creates new business opportunities, or the collaboration that underpins industry-wide transformation? These connections give us insight into how, collectively, we will move together to deliver in the decade of decarbonisation.

Featured image: A 500-strong audience attended IS Council’s Connect conference on the Sunshine Coast in October. Image courtesy of IS Council.

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