Demystifying sustainability

WSP Australia Pty Limited
Tuesday, 10 November, 2009

Art and science of infrastructure delivery

“Sustainability in infrastructure is about both art and science. The art is in having the ability to recognise and enunciate what we value. The science is being able to adapt and innovate in our field of expertise,” said Dr James Mantle, Parsons Brinckerhoff’s (PB) Managing Director.

The last two years have seen a major shift in PB’s commitment to sustainability. For this global infrastructure consultancy, the shift began with the appointment of a PB Director of Sustainability who drove a raft of new initiatives aimed at challenging ‘business as usual’ and introducing a culture of sustainability.

Fundamental to this shift was to ‘demystify’ sustainability for PB employees and clients. PB has developed the world’s first sustainability training program targeted specifically at project managers. The program focuses on building a sustainability business case for every new project using PB’s sustainability principles - Integration, Adaptation and Innovation (IAI) - as the framework. The goal is for every project, internal or external, to be developed with a business case for the sustainability performance of the company, its clients and stakeholders in mind.

For clients, this approach to sustainability brings unexpected results. Take, for example, PB’s work on the Remote Area Essential Services Programme (RAESP). The RAESP team delivers water, power and wastewater management services to remote Indigenous communities across Western Australia, on behalf of the state government. The Programme faces many challenges, including cultural differences, remote locations and resource constraints. These challenges could detract from the strategic approach needed to effectively prioritise and design resource allocation, emergency responses and capital works.

However, for the PB team, these challenges reinforced the need to focus on sustainability outcomes. Using PB’s IAI sustainability approach, the team has effectively managed resources, achieved greater value for money, and developed innovations and new research. One example is how they addressed hypersaline water conditions and energy constraints with solar power and trials of emerging desalination technologies. Another is how stakeholder engagement increased their understanding of the socio-technological interactions affecting operations and delivery in different communities. As these trials evolve, the lessons from this project may be applied more broadly and free up resources for investment into areas currently considered a lower priority.

In another example, the team had to provide alternative water pumping options - and in record time. The original plan required electrification of the bores for a Pilbara community at a cost of nearly $1m. The team investigated other options (solar, wind, air compressor etc) and convinced the client to go for a combined wind/solar hybrid instead of traditional ‘poles and wires’. This has resulted in a cost saving of nearly $800,000 for the client with the same level of service reliability.

These results would not have been achieved without a challenge to the ‘business as usual’ approach and the pursuit of a sustainability business case for the project.

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