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Engineering News

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Sustainability: a success measure of infrastructure projects

Sustainability: a success measure of infrastructure projects

Project success measures have recently been broadened to incorporate sustainability (e.g. economic, social and environmental measures) over the life of a project. Previously this was restricted to economic outcomes or time, cost, quality and functionality outputs. Today, sustainability and outstanding project outcomes are synonymous, and the sponsors’ role at the start of a project is critical in achieving leading sustainability.

So, when does sustainability become a required project outcome that’s introduced into an infrastructure project? The greatest opportunities to add value, and to provide sustainability benefits are at the earliest stages of an infrastructure project. Opinions vary as to precisely when this occurs based on preconceived assumptions, such as:

• “During the business case preparation when budgets are set, because surely sustainability costs more”
• “During design development, because it's the creativity and scientific knowledge of the design team that determines sustainability”
• “During construction because that’s when the contract drives the sustainability imperative through incentives, or the need to avoid being penalised”

Regardless of these assumptions, informed infrastructure sponsors understand that:

• A project is part of a business continuum, striving to delight customers and give shareholders above average returns on their investment
• All business decisions are made ‘upstream’ during the planning stage when sustainability targets are set (Figure 1)
• Their internal development culture will ultimately drive the delivery strategy and define the limits of successful project outcomes
• Once their team is appointed, they decide on either a traditional BAU project focus or a true business focus delivering sustainability outcomes
• Sustainability goals Once a project is designed, if sustainability hasn’t already been embedded, then it’s too late to achieve sustainability goals as fees have been expended and construction can only make minor improvements.

Figure 1. Project phases and stages

 Project phases and stages

But when, and how, can sponsors, directors and executives forecast their project will result in an ideal sustainability business outcome, such as service delivery or an optimum functioning facility? 

When? This forecast needs to be made during the Planning Stage when limited funds have been committed and corrective actions can be taken.

How? Decisions made during the Planning Stage need to be assisted by checklists of performance measures, applied by experienced professionals, which highlight the risks and opportunities leading from decisions.

Dr Tom Crow FIEAust has authored the Innovations for Planning Infrastructure Sustainability handbook, the subject of EEA’s Innovations for Planning Infrastructure Sustainability two-day course. The course has participants undertaking a ‘lessons learnt’ exercise on their own nominated project to determine how well it was planned to achieve an outstanding outcome with enhanced sustainability.

- Dr Tom Crow