ISCA chief executive Antony Sprigg

By Cameron Jewell

11 September 2013 — While green buildings have become standard for government – and projections suggest they’ll soon become the norm for most new construction – infrastructure in Australia is a completely different story.

When you think of the scale of some infrastructure development there’s a huge untapped potential for savings, both environmental and economic.

For example, the construction of the new North West Rail Link in Sydney – with eight new stations, 15 kilometres of tunnels and 25 kilometres of new track – will have the equivalent energy demand of an entire small city, according to one source associated with the project.

However, getting infrastructure projects to adopt sustainability goals is a hard ask. Where the building industry has years of hard data proving the business and environmental case for sustainability, infrastructure lacks both local precedent and a market to drive the change.

While tenants can up and leave to new sustainable digs in order to improve productivity, worker retention and overheads, in the infrastructure world we’re stuck with what gets built, sustainable or otherwise.

Conversations The Fifth Estate has had with government sources also suggest there is hesitance to even publicly acknowledge the sustainability benefits of major infrastructure projects out of fear of non-performance or backlash against something that could be framed as costly or non-essential.

Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia

The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia has been created to address the issue of sustainability in infrastructure development and operation.

Formed in 2008, ISCA was formerly known as the Australian Green Infrastructure Council until the first quarter of this year, with the name changed as part of an organisational strategy that “identified a need for the brand to reflect the fact that the rating incorporated more than just environmental sustainability”, ISCA chief executive Antony Sprigg told The Fifth Estate.

Sprigg has been involved with ISCA since close to its inception. Originally commissioned as a project manager during his time at GHD, he has filled a secondment as part-time chief executive since March 2012. In June of this year he accepted the position full-time.

“There is a lot of interest [in ISCA],” says Sprigg. “In one year we’ve had 10 registrations, which equates to around $10 billion in capital value.”

The projects cover a range of infrastructure areas, including waste water, bulk water, heavy rail, light rail, ports and roads.

But the projects currently registered are only a small piece of the pie, though, and there’s massive potential for large-scale implementation of sustainability goals across the industry.

According to ISCA’s chair David Singleton, investment in infrastructure construction and operation was estimated to be more than $40 billion in 2012 alone, accounting for 39 per cent of Australia’s $105 billion construction market. Adding existing infrastructure magnifies the potential even further.

“Local councils maintain 84 per cent of roads, with the assets having a value of over $300 billion,” says Sprigg. “Small improvements here can mean immense sustainability outcomes.”

The rating tool

ISCA’s measurement tool – the Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme – has been designed to measure a range of sustainability criteria across design, construction and operation, with major themes comprising management and governance; using resources; emissions, pollution and waste; ecology; people and place; and innovation.

There are three ratings that can be awarded to infrastructure projects that go beyond compliance: commended, excellent and leading.

Importantly, says Sprigg, the tool is designed to get sustainable outcomes without an increase in capital spent, through strategies such as better decision making, evidence and data.

“In infrastructure, contractors want to deliver a terrific asset at excellent cost,” says Sprigg. He says the tool helps to reduce cost and risk.

Aside from the usual minimisation of energy, waste and water, the benefits of using the tool, says Sprigg, include:

  • having a powerful governance and assurance mechanism
  • facilitating a common language that previously did not exist
  • providing benchmarks for industry to see where companies can perform
  • functioning as a risk-assessment tool by scoping whole-of-life sustainability risks for projects and assets
  • being seen as a business excellence framework – “stakeholders are starting to use it as a framework to facilitate high-performance outcomes on projects and outcomes in a collaborative and collegiate manner”
  • enhancing social licence to operate
  • corporate branding and marketing potential
  • improving management systems

There are currently two IS tools in action: Design and As Built. An Operation tool is currently in the pilot stage, too, though Sprigg says that operation is also factored into the other two tools.

“You can secure a design rating, but if you don’t demonstrate a whole of life commitment you will not be able to retain the rating,” he says.

“We’re here to encourage long-term operational benefits through the adoption of the tool.”

The tool was launched by former infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese in 2012, and has now had launches in most states and territories. It wasn’t until June 2012 when technical manuals were released, however, that the tool was deemed live and operational.

The tool has been designed with inspiration taken from international infrastructure rating tools, like the UK’s CEEQUAL, and also locally from the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star rating tools.

“Where GBCA’s Green Star is the building sectors leading rating sustainability tool, ISCA’s IS Scheme is Australia’s only sustainability performance, assurance and rating tool for civil works and infrastructure projects and assets,” says Sprigg.

“The infrastructure industry has obviously observed the success of voluntary sustainability ratings in the building sector over the last decade – in the US, UK, Australia and rest of the world.”

Some of the people involved in the UK counterpart CEEQUAL actually helped out with ISCA’s IS tool, along with other major stakeholders including Engineers Australia, he says.

The first projects to be registered

At present, only two of the 10 registered projects have been certified – a Design rating for a sewage treatment plant in the Whitsundays by Tenix, and last month an As Built rating was announced for the Great Eastern Highway upgrade in Western Australia by Main Roads WA.

Who’s using it?

People registering for ratings range from private sector contractors to major public sector delivery and owner–operator agencies.

Sprigg is hopeful more projects will sign up, and there is interest from more than one state government.

“The IS tool is starting to get mandated by some public sector owner–operator agencies,” says Sprigg.

One example is Main Roads Western Australia, which will now register any project over $100 million.

At the formal award ceremony for the Great Eastern Highway upgrade As Built rating, WA Infrastructure Transport Directorate executive director Leo Cocci said the IS rating process had “encouraged Main Roads WA to formally identify major projects where project teams are able to implement best-practice and innovative sustainability solutions to deliver long-term environmental, social and economic benefit through WA road infrastructure”.

The project delivered the largest use of recycled imported material on any WA state road, at 43 per cent.

Another state government source told The Fifth Estate it was considering using the tool for a major project, though was hesitant to do so officially, and may end up just performing to the tool’s standard without seeking certification – a problem that has occurred with some voluntary rating tools for buildings.

The cost of a rating can range from $12,000 to $63,000, depending on tool type, membership status and project capital value.

When questioned whether it had been difficult to sell the tool without historical supporting data, Sprigg maintains it is not a case of selling.

“We’re not there to sell it,” he says. “This is an industry funded and identified project. Industry identified the need for this.

“We didn’t sit in some little room and cook this up. The objectives, ethos and architecture underpinning the IS Tool have been developed collaboratively, involving the full range of infrastructure stakeholders involving many, many people. We’re just the facilitators for this.”

But Sprigg concedes it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“Yes, to a certain degree [it’s difficult],” Sprigg says, “but people get the need and are willing to work so we collectively get data to inform the business case.

“We’ve been very open about that and as we work with industry we’re gathering information, data and case studies to highlight the range of tangible benefits.”

Case study: Whitsundays Sewage Treatment Plant upgrade

The Whitsundays Sewage Treatment Plant upgrade by Tenix was the first infrastructure project to use ISCA’s IS tool.

“The Whitsundays wastewater plant articulates in a quantifiable business case sense the benefits of applying the tool,” says Sprigg.

The upgrade was for two treatment plants at Prosperine and Cannonvale to serve the growing communities in the area, and also to meet stringent effluent discharge requirements in order to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The $45 million project commenced in May 2012 and is due to be completed next year.

Highlights of the project include:

  • Management systems: good management systems integrating the IS rating tool into practices, and knowledge sharing clearly demonstrated
  • Procurement and purchasing: commitment to and application of sustainable procurement including local procurement where 50 per cent of total spend in the Whitsunday region and 30 per cent of total spend in greater Queensland
  • Climate change adaptation: thorough, formal climate change risk assessment and implemented controls to reduce 22 “high” or “very high” risks to a “moderate” or “low” rating
  • Energy and carbon: 305 MWh electricity saved over operational life (a 14 per cent reduction equating to $75,000 savings a year); 14,000 tonnes carbon emissions avoided over lifecycle; use of B20 biodiesel avoiding 272 tCO2-e while being cost neutral
  • Water: 15 per cent reduction in water use over lifecycle, with associated cost benefit
  • Materials: reduced the materials footprint by 25 per cent by using 4329 tonnes less concrete and 298 tonnes less steel; using eco-cement with 30 per cent fly ash; eliminating asphalt from the design
  • Receiving water quality: greater than 75 per cent reduction in nitrogen and greater than 90 per cent reduction in phosphorus (44 tonnes less nutrients annually) to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • Ecological value: ecological value enhanced through more than 5000 square metres of regenerated native habitat and 1000 sq m of wetland
  • Innovation: world’s-first trial of parallel nitrification and de-nitrification, which significantly improves nitrogen removal, is more compact, needs less construction materials and is more energy efficient

More information can be found at the ISCA website.

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  1. Great to see the platform upon which our cities and buildings are built, get a bit of airtime and another piece of the larger sustainability puzzle fall into place.