Resource Efficiency in a

Circular Economy

By Dr Cristyn Meath
Lecturer, The University of Queensland.

This article was first published at

As pressure mounts on industries around the world to transition from traditional linear supply chain models to circular economy principles, Australia’s infrastructure sector has the opportunity to become a global leader. Indeed, signs Australia may be set to experience a surge in infrastructure investment as part of the COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery, provides further potential for the industry to pursue ground-breaking innovations in line with circular economy principles. Given the scale of materials use in infrastructure, the benefits of such actions could be immense, making a critical contribution to safeguarding a healthy and sustainable planet for current and future generations.

Realising an industry-wide transition to circular economy, redefining how flows of resources move within supply chains to mirror the regenerative nature of natural ecosystems, is no simple task. Some progress is occurring through the emergence of institutional pressures influencing corporate strategies towards improving the sustainability of operations. The IS Rating Scheme also supports the ability of industry stakeholders to reward the sustainability efforts of companies by providing critically important independent and comparable measurement of project sustainability. However, effecting real change for sustainability often requires overcoming a multitude of challenges within organisations and industry as well as broader systemic issues. Misperceptions of sustainable material quality or price, restrictive tendering timelines, meeting materials standards, social norms of resisting innovation, and procurement security concerns are just some of the many factors limiting adoption of sustainable and recycled materials innovations in the industry.

Organisations can support their employees to make materials consumption decisions which are optimal for their organisation while also aligning with the shift to circular economy principles. The provision of relevant and accurate data, training to assist employees to understand how materials use in infrastructure impacts global sustainability phenomena such as climate change and biodiversity loss, and empowering employees to be change agents, developing their own solutions to transform the industry are all relevant to supporting decision making on sustainable materials consumption in infrastructure. There remains, however, a variety of factors which exist beyond the control of individual companies, particularly when considering the transition towards circular economy principles. As Australia currently lacks sufficient policy and legislative frameworks at the national level to alone drive the required rate of environmental change, a bottom-up approach, led by industry collaborations and product co-design is required.

While ISCA continues to support such industry led change through IS credits for innovation and the recent addition of circular economy initiative credits, they also recognise collaboration and partnership within the the industry are critical. It is for this reason ISCA has partnered with The University of Queensland and Business Models Inc. to develop a new initiative aimed at supporting the industry to co-design innovations for the future while simultaneously seeking to address industry and economy level factors which may limit their adoption. Providing a platform for industry led action to further progress and set a new vision of a circular infrastructure sector, the Infrastructure CoLab delivers the opportunity for companies to partner with other leaders in the sector and their supply chains guided by Business Models Inc.’s proven co-innovation Lab framework. With access to world-leading research through The University of Queensland and their network of domestic and international contacts, participating companies will also be supported with topic specific cutting edge research expertise.

As the industry evolves, so too will the Infrastructure CoLab and its focus areas. Initial focus areas for company co-designed innovation have been developed to align with current trends in the industry which are capable of supporting the transition to circular economy principles:

  • Smart Infrastructure
  • Resilience of Underground Space
  • Sustainable Materials Adoption
  • Procurement Security for Circular Economy
  • Innovative Energy Solutions

After years of investigating sustainable materials use in Australia’s infrastructure sector, it is clear the motivation of companies to push the boundaries of sustainability innovation has reached a new high. The extent to which the industry can realise the competitive and societal benefits of this momentum will depend on the ability of the industry to partner and collaborate, overcoming current challenges to scaling innovations.

Through the Infrastructure CoLab ISCA, The University of Queensland and BMI look forward to supporting you to create and realise a new vision of circular and resilient infrastructure for our rapidly changing world.

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