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Making Sustainability Governance Real: Using IS Across the Project Lifecycle

ISCA 2020 IMPACTS REPORT FEATURE: British physicist Lord Kelvin famously said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” The IS Rating Scheme has reinvented the way we think about sustainable infrastructure and established this measurement platform. Projects can use the framework to quantify and verify performance, driving sustainability initiatives as less of a ‘feel good’ intention and rather a way to guide actual progress.

Used in the right way, a formal framework, such as the IS Rating Scheme, encourages project teams to make some hard decisions and challenge each other to come up with options that give the most bang for buck not just in design and construction, but across the entire lifecycle of an asset. It is only through the input and support from everyone involved – designer, constructor and owner/operator – that effective sustainability initiatives are identified and realised.

To achieve this, the asset owner’s involvement extends beyond the inclusion of a simple clause in a contract for the designer and contractor to address. There is a need for their participation in the development of the project’s sustainability governance framework and identification of robust objectives.
Following establishment of an integrated governance process, a materiality assessment will facilitate the identification of significant sustainability aspects of the project and drive the focus of opportunity identification and other sustainability procedures that are best applied to the particular project. Decisions made in the planning and design stages of a project will in turn have major consequences for construction and operation.

Most recently, GHD were part of the Integrated Project Team, along with BG&E and the asset owner Main Roads WA, who delivered the planning and development phase of the Bunbury Outer Ring Road (BORR) Project in Western Australia. Significant support and leadership from Main Roads WA was essential during the development of the project sustainability framework, identification, investigation and incorporation of opportunities within the project scope, and ongoing inclusion of sustainability as an agenda item.
One of the most important sustainability considerations for major infrastructure projects is resource use across the lifetime of an asset. Traditionally designers and constructors are used to thinking about resources that are going to be most significant by cost or by volume during the construction phase. However through the sustainability lens, the embodied emissions associated with materials and life cycle energy use are a more significant factor in measuring impact. In addition to how much energy and materials a project will use, waste as a resource is a key consideration, especially with growing attention to the concept of a ‘circular economy’. Projects should consider where they are likely to have the most significant impacts in terms of waste, and apply the waste hierarchy to stimulate resource efficiency opportunities through design and construction.

On the BORR project, the team recognised the need to consider resource requirements not just for construction of the project, but also the needs of other resource users in the region, undertaking analysis of local capacity to provide materials and future availability of resources. The team also considered the long term impacts (both positive and negative) when assessing the types of materials best to be used on the project.

Decision making through design must be approached with a long term vision of creating dynamic and resilient infrastructure, with an emphasis on people and place. The team at BORR adopted an integrated and transparent decision-making approach whereby detailed Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) methodology and a specialised decision making tool for less significant decisions was used. The tools allowed flexibility in the sustainability factors considered in the assessment (e.g. resource use, ecological impacts, social amenity), while encouraging holistic decision making/consideration of impacts. This aided in deciding which opportunities to pursue and enabled comprehensive documentation of decisions, also reflected throughout design reports.

Bunbury-Port.PNGImage: Bunbury Port 

BORR Sustainability Focus Areas

• Public support, inclusion and involvement, building capacity
• External uncertainties and cumulative impacts
• Ecology - approvals and enhancements
• Material sourcing and efficiencies
• Design considerations for resilience and value for money
• Safety

Once a project planning team identify and decide upon the most appropriate sustainability options, they are not always realised in practice. Due to different parties involved in the project working within their own constraints, challenges may arise where upfront investment for a sustainable solution/initiative is required and the financial return will be provided to another party during a subsequent phase of a project.  For the BORR project, it was critical for opportunity investigations to be thorough to enable those leading the project to have the confidence to incorporate the high value opportunities within the project scope, minimising this risk in the design phase. The IS framework provided guidance with this.

Procurement models also play a significant role in ensuring the realisation of sustainability outcomes, which can be seen in the shared commitments of an alliance or other collaborative contract structure. Another and complementary approach is to mandate specific sustainability outcomes as part of the contract for each phase of the project by preparing a sustainability commitments register or similar for inclusion in the delivery scope. This should be prepared in collaboration with the delivery team where possible as they will essentially be responsible for implementing the identified initiatives.

Fundamentally, the IS rating process directs project teams to use the planning and design stages of a project to develop durable and dynamic solutions that will deliver sustainability benefits over the long term. The use of the IS Rating Tool and explicit consideration of a quadruple bottom line are a significant change for the way projects are delivered but they also motivate all parties to challenge ‘business as usual’ approaches to achieve benefits across the entire project lifecycle.

Piece by Amy Elkington, Senior Environment and Sustainability Consultant and Emilie Stenmark, Environment and Sustainability Consultant, GHD.


The 2020 ISCA Impacts Report is testament to ISCA's purpose, ‘ensuring all infrastructure delivers social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits’ both now and in the future.

Download the ISCA Impacts Report 2020