And why we can’t just rely on the concept of ‘sustainability’ anymore


When it comes to the future, we need to start thinking about how we make our infrastructure sustainable, durable, and adaptable.

In reality, we would all love sustainability to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds when it comes to design and construction, however, we won’t get to that position without it being paired with an economically viable business case.

This is why the commercial viability of ideas or change needs to be at the centre of decision-making when it comes to the sustainable infrastructure of the future.

As a NonExec Director on boards for both private and public companies bringing strategy, customer, and finance skills to organisations, I see the conversation centred mostly on the numbers before sustainability outcomes, that’s what usually motivates change and transformation.


Why do we want to prove sustainable infrastructure is commercially viable?


We want to prove sustainable infrastructure is commercially viable to achieve buy-in from government and industry bodies. Developing real projects that key stakeholders can see delivering both economic and environmental outcomes will drive change and make a difference, and often leads to becoming the industries’ best practice.

If we want to drive change and enforce sustainable regulations and requirements, we need to see customer demand to underwrite the economics and even start to ask the question, “where is the more sustainable alternative?”. It will take leadership, education, and awareness to drive this demand.

In 2019, when I was at ERM Power we undertook industry research that showed only 1 in 5 companies had a sustainability strategy or even sustainability-related corporate goals or KPIs on their agenda. Therefore, if we want change, it needs to be driven by leaders being clear and setting targets on what they expect in this space.

So we need to educate decision-makers about how sustainable infrastructure is commercially viable. We need to increase awareness as to what the options are, as many operators get set in their ways with what they know and trust and have limited awareness (and low trust) on new products, approaches and strategies that could deliver greater value, sustainably and economically.


Where do we start when looking at commercially viable sustainable infrastructure solutions?


The best way to achieve buy-in is through case studies of successful projects that are commercially viable. The greatest project I’ve seen execute this is the Mueller Community – a commercial and residential development in Austin, Texas.

Originally, we went to see a district cooling system as we were looking at coordinating a group that included key international utilities to drive a similar opportunity in Brisbane’s CBD. However, what we saw were sustainable road materials, parks, efficient use of water, car-free mobility, smart controls, art sculptures that were solar panels, a smart grid, and the district cooling system that was also used to heat for cogeneration. The list goes on.

Mueller is leading the way as a model for sustainable community design, and they still recognise they have a long way to go to keep their community clean, green, and sustainable. This type of project proves that the complete development of sustainable infrastructure can still ensure the investment generates a sufficient economic return while providing sustainable environmental benefits.

We also need to look at case studies that may not be as successful and see where there is the opportunity for improvement and how we would have approached those projects differently to achieve commercial success.


How do we start developing commercially viable sustainable infrastructure solutions?


The Infrastructure CoLab aims to address hurdles in developing sustainable infrastructure. This team of industry, government, and academic leaders bring their expertise and experience together to make decisions and ultimately drive meaningful change.

Everybody wants real change with real outcomes – it’s just about identifying practical and commercially feasible projects and moving forward from there. If you want to be part of the change and make ‘sustainability’ a reality, register your interest in the CoLab workshop today.

Leave a Reply