The Sustainability Space

The Sustainability Space

Edition #2 - What is “sustainability” anyway, and what does it mean in the context of construction, infrastructure and development?

There are some in the industry who are starting to gain a good understanding of sustainability and what it means in relation to some of the infrastructure and development projects currently going on here in Victoria, across Australia and New Zealand. But there are others that are still in the early days of the journey of understanding and who are looking to climb that learning curve quickly.

So it’s a question worthy of asking and attempting to answer.

Let’s look at the first part of the question: What is sustainability anyway?

Well, really getting down to brass tacks, it’s our ability to sustain ourselves, sustain our businesses, our lives and livelihoods without impacting the ability of future generations to be able to do the same. It’s about understanding not only the impacts on our physical environment and how we can better manage those, it’s also about our impacts on and how we manage social concerns, economic concerns and how we make decisions and oversee and direct matters (i.e. governance concerns). Moreover, it’s the interaction and interplay between those four elements. One of the lenses to look at this is through the 4 P model – Planet, People, Profit and Purpose.

So, to the second part of the question – what is sustainability in construction, infrastructure and development?

In 2013, the construction industry was responsible for just over 18% of Australia’s total carbon footprint¹. Admittedly, that’s just looking at a very small part of the broader sustainability picture if you consider the definition above, but you catch my drift. The construction industry has a large impact on Australia and the globe from an environmental, social and economic perspective. The consulting, construction, development, property and infrastructure industries employ a significant number of people and procure a range of services and products, including beyond our geographies, so our industry, our sector, has a huge ability to influence more sustainable outcomes.

That is why it’s important to ask what is sustainability in construction, infrastructure and development.

It’s looking at and actually delivering, operating and maintaining assets – infrastructure, buildings, built environments – in a more efficient and effective way, considerate of the interplay of societal needs, environment, finance and economics under appropriate governance structures. It’s working towards and playing our part in delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals in so doing. It’s about creating resilience in its various forms, in the communities we all live and work in.

But before any of these things I think it’s actually a mindset. As an industry we have to have an open, adaptability-focused mindset, with a knowledge that things can be done more efficiently, differently and better.

1 – W. Yu, T. Wiedmann, R. Crawford, C. Tait, The Carbon Footprint of Australia’s Construction Sector, Procedia Engineering 00 (2017) 000–000

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Edition #1 - Welcome to the Sustainability Space!

Welcome! "Why are you writing a sustainability blog?", you may well ask. Well, it’s a topic dear to my heart having worked in sustainability, particularly in the construction and infrastructure sector, for a number of years. And, it’s a topic of increasing importance in the work we do – when I say “we”, of course, I’m talking about Tonkin + Taylor (we have an increasingly strong focus around the work we do and the activities we carry out and its impacts/ benefits to the environment and society) but also “we” meaning the consulting industry, the development industry, the infrastructure industry and their constituent parts.

For those who don’t know me so well, you’re probably asking what gives me licence to have a voice and blog on the subject. Well, here’s a wee sustainability resume for you:

  • I led a high-performing and successful Environmental and Sustainability Management team across Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, and the Middle East in the construction sector.
  • I’ve led the development of sustainability strategies for large multinational corporates.
  • I have had active involvement in industry groups such as the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) and the Australian Constructor’s Association (ACA) Sustainability Working Party.
  • I have and currently act as a sustainability advisor, reviewer and auditor on various infrastructure projects in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Participated in numerous sustainability think tanks and events such as UN Global Compact events.

It’s an incredibly important topic to talk about, and I’m keen to share thoughts, ideas and experiences. So this is why I’m starting this blog!

Sharing is something important to me personally. I’m sure the discussions I’ve had, thoughts and ideas I’ve shared on issues, be they technical sustainability issues, career directions or working in project or organisational teams to achieve certain outcomes would be of benefit to a wider audience too.

As such, I’ll be sharing my thoughts, knowledge and experiences on the blog. No names or otherwise identifying features will be used in my posts, of course, in relation to any discussions I’ve had or will have (unless appropriate or permission granted!). Posts will be focussed around experiences, thoughts, insights and outcomes - the kinds of things I’d be happy enough to talk about or present on at a conference or industry event.

I have a rather full schedule of topics ready to start blogging on, but in the spirit of sharing if there is anything you’d like me to talk about, have any questions, or would like to contact me directly to chat further, please feel to drop me a line directly - nneal@tonkintaylor.com.au.