Sustainability has moved from being an afterthought to now touching every part of a project. It is both a strategic risk and opportunity for projects, with slow action revealing not just a weakness in sustainability thinking, but also the strategic capability of leaders. Those leaders that engage with government and with entire supply chains and multiple sectors will be able to foster collaboration – with policies and plans that anchor the role of sustainability in the design and delivery of infrastructure. 

Whether it’s environmental (for example, biodiversity or nature related) or social (for example, creating or taking away employment opportunities, or addressing diversity and inclusion). These are the risks and challenges facing leaders of infrastructure projects, who will have increasing responsibility for addressing and reducing impacts. 

Of the available outcomes, which to choose? 

The journey towards better sustainability outcomes on major projects will be continuous. The outcomes available will be different for each organisation, and each major project. What is known, is that investors, analysts, shareholders, insurers, government, consumers and communities will be watching closely to assess each major project on its sustainability performance and integrity. 

How projects are designed and delivered requires a new way of thinking and acting. Line of sight now needs to extend across the entire supply chain, from the sourcing of finance, resources, services, and products (their origination, movement and circularity), to their social value. This is in addition to continually identifying opportunities to add sustainability value during business case development, project planning, design, and implementation. 

Not all sustainability efforts are created equal 

Another challenge for designing and delivering major projects is the quality of sustainability actions that are identified and accepted. There’s been a big shift towards sustainability, together with a desire by businesses, industries and individuals for more sustainable living. However, society is at the point where scepticism is creeping in as people no longer take promises at face value. This is where quality comes in as it’s an approach to measure, verify and quantify outcomes. 

Stakeholders are seeking verification of impact – as an example a trend that is becoming clear in carbon markets where there is now a price separation for different forms of carbon offsets. A premium already exists for higher integrity projects where there is high confidence that carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stays removed. 

Quality management has a long history of being able to cut wastage, produce better designs faster, and therefore cut costs. It comes with an array of systems, processes and methodologies that make improvements constantly. It’s seen as an enabler within organisations and projects. 

There have been waves of quality in design, and safety in design, to the point where these are universally accepted and ingrained in projects, processes and production. Sound and proven quality management systems and tools can be the driving force to help achieve sustainability outcomes of a high standard. 

Transportation 

Our transportation networks, which facilitate the movement of both people and goods, are one of the world’s largest economic ecosystems and have a fundamental role to play in shifting sustainability dial. 

Improved sustainability is being demanded within all major modes of transport, driven by a growing awareness of the impact from both vehicle emissions and construction materials.  

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Built environment 

It’s important that project leaders stay close to industry and supply chain developments as the biggest impact the built environment has is rapidly adopting more sustainable products and materials into design and construction. 

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Energy 

Mega-scale infrastructure projects are rapidly emerging to deliver the energy transition, and the bulk of the impetus behind this shift in capital is sustainability related – as the greatest sustainability impact that can be achieved is to limit climate change through the decarbonisation of electricity. 

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Water 

In pursuit of the enduring sustainability of water, both in its availability for human consumption and use in agriculture and industrial processes, the concept of circular economy is increasingly being embraced. This approach aims to safeguard and regenerate nature, retain resources at their highest value for the longest possible time, and design out waste from systems. 

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Long-term value creation and competitive advantage 

Sustainability will increasingly drive the direction of capital investment through value creation, establishing the way organisations define value, manage risk, construct portfolios, design projects, and engage with stakeholders. Businesses that prioritise sustainability often attract and retain top talent, strengthen stakeholder trust, and foster long-term relationships with customers and communities. 

Overall, the convergence of these factors will continue driving increased investment in sustainability as organisations recognise the potential for long-term value creation and competitive advantage. 

Major projects, and their leaders, that champion transparency and demonstrate responsiveness to stakeholders will attract investment more effectively. They will also realise their own, and society’s, ambition to make choices which are more sustainable; economically, socially, and environmentally. 

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Aurecon. For more information, visit aurecongroup.com.

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