Who’s who in the sustainable infrastructure zoo?

Role sustainability

Micro-managers out, team players in –successful implementation of sustainability in infrastructure projects are those where everyone plays to their roles.

When I was a graduate, a manager gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. My young, eager ears listened in earnest to this gold nugget of information.

“Being a good consultant is not about providing advice or even knowing when to listen to advice… It’s about knowing how to put it all together with the people around you.”

This has never rung more true than on major infrastructure projects. The most successful projects are the ones where the stakeholders stick to their roles. Conversely, the biggest challenges occur when people deviate from their roles. Of course, this is just my experience of implementing sustainability initiatives on major projects. This is an opinion piece so feel free to comment on your own experiences in the comments section because the more we all talk about it, the better prepared we will be when we work together in the future.

The happy hour cocktail recipe for success

Like many businesses, Edge Environment has been riding the wave of infrastructure development in NSW and across Australia. Sustainability advisory services in infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure, has been a significant area of our business. Having been involved in our growth and success in this area, I firmly believe this is due to some key aspects. If our success in infrastructure were a happy hour cocktail, it would follow this recipe:

  • One part foresight (with a dash of luck, of course!)
  • One part technical understanding
  • A generous sprinkle of innovation
  • Fill to top with knowledge of the role required.

We had the foresight to align with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) early on and recognise the value of their Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating tool. I admit, we were lucky that the NSW Government injected significant investment in infrastructure and that didn’t hurt us either. Our technical understanding of sustainability comes from the education and experience of our team. Our dash of innovation comes from the ingrained culture of our small consultancy that needs to stay ahead of the curve to compete with the big boys.

A vital ingredient – knowing our role on a project

Knowing our role on a project has been our most important strength, but it is also the hardest to explain. We take pride in hiring the best people – not necessarily the most educated or the most experienced in consultancy, but those who believe that we can achieve our goals by working with our clients to create real value on a project. We believe in a diversity of thought and the best quality of our team members is their ability to create solid, trusting relationships with our clients, and our clients’ clients, and integrate with wider project teams.

Staying in formation

I visualise a project delivery team being similar to a soccer team. The best soccer teams are not the ones stacked with superstars, but the ones who have the right people delivering on the right positions. It would be chaos if the goal keeper acted as the striker whenever he or she felt like it. Or what if the coach decided to get his or her feet dirty and kick the ball around during a match?

A project is similar: we need the designers to design the best possible asset, the builder to build as efficiently as possible, the procurement manager to purchase what is best for project. The independent certifiers should ensure the contractual requirements are being met and the client should guide a pathway toward the vision they are working to achieve. The sustainability manager’s role is to engage and inform all parts of the team to drive the design, construction and operation of a sustainable asset. Often, this is where things get blurry. If a sustainability manager started to change designs, procure materials and services and get involved in construction then this is no different to the coach getting his/her feet dirty. There may be some success initially but in the long run, it will likely fail.

It’s a matter of trust

Of course, we are the self-confessed experts in sustainability and try to add value by engaging, informing and advising the project team. But at the end of the day we must trust that everyone will deliver according to their roles and responsibilities. If you would like to know a few more tips and tricks about implementing sustainability in your projects, have a look at this excellent article written by my colleague Jon Panic.

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