Projects rated by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) reduced energy-related emissions by 43 per cent and materials-related emissions by 56 per cent over the past financial year, according to the organisation’s annual report. 

Government mandates requiring major public works to be IS rated helped ensure conscious steps were made to reduce emissions, waste and water use, however ISC chief executive Ainsley Simpson said too many projects were still flying under radar.

“We’ve only really got the major and mega infrastructure projects looking at the performance when we could equally be delivering these outcomes for communities at the local government level,” Ms Simpson said. 

Thresholds for sustainability performance assessments range from $10 million in the ACT and $50 million in NSW, up to $100 million in most other jurisdictions, which Ms Simpson said should be standardised nationally at $5 million. 

“There needs to be absolute clarity from a national perspective that all infrastructure matters — and it can do more,” she said. 

She added it was important that assessments considered the interconnected “quadruple bottom line” principles of social, cultural, environmental, and economic outcomes.

“There is additional upside by looking at all of those factors holistically as opposed to just using a singular metric like emissions or climate risk or resilience,” she said. 

According to Ms Simpson, the positive results seen proved that reaching net zero across the infrastructure asset landscape was possible when projects met contractual requirements built in by government decision-makers from the start. 

“The market is ready to deliver these outcomes. But they’re only going to do that when it’s really clear that that’s what their clients are looking for,” Ms Simpson said. 

The Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme compares emissions, water, waste and energy reduction against business-as-usual practice, mapping outcomes against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

“Our rating scheme requires every project or asset that we work with to provide their original reference design, or what we call ‘base case’, that’s how the infrastructure would have been designed and constructed in the absence of the rating scheme or any requirements to go beyond compliance,” Ms Simpson explained.  

The 2021 Impacts Report determined that certified projects diverted 95 per cent of waste from landfill and water used in construction and operation was roughly half that of the base case.

Certified projects included the $1.2 billion CBD & South East Light Rail project in New South Wales, which replaced 33 per cent of its emissions-intensive Portland cement with supplementary cementing materials like fly ash. 

Also, Victoria’s $1.4 billion Level Crossing Removal Program as part of its Big Build diverted 100 per cent of its construction waste — or roughly 61,817 tonnes — from landfill.

“We have proven that embedding sustainability requirements in business cases, procurement and contracts we can halve our emissions,” Ms Simpson said, “An extraordinary achievement given infrastructure has been considered one of the ‘hard to transition’ sectors of the economy.”

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