Ainsley Simpson chief executive officer of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council

At The Fifth Estate we’ve long been fascinated by the infrastructure sector – with some conflicting tensions playing a part. 

On the one hand is the enormous amount of carbon that’s consumed in traditional big projects, such as roads and bridges. On the other is the massive savings in carbon that can be made by bringing a sustainability lens to the job.

But as Ainsley explains so beautifully in this insightful podcast, there’s so much more to infrastructure and much of it can enable our bright new better world.

Ainsley Simpson is the chief executive officer of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC), a member-based peak body. The ISC is purpose-driven, to ensure all infrastructure delivers social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits.

Speaking with The Fifth Estate’s editor, Tina Perinotto, Simpson says that beyond just being “the flavour of the day,” sustainability within the infrastructure sector is beginning to become “a business imperative”.

Shareholders are expecting it. Stakeholders are expecting it. Employees are demanding it. 

“It is becoming commercially quite an important issue,” she says.

Simpson says that the crises of today are leading to the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Those breakthroughs will lead to massive savings (not that surprising, given that the alternative is a massive loss to the costs of climate change). 

“Oftentimes, change is driven by things that are challenging at the time. Some of those major challenges at the moment for all of our members… [is] climate change, digital technology, and the speed at which things need to happen. 

“Never have we had such an accelerated pipeline around expectations and delivery. And then importantly, also the skills shortages. Increasingly, [there are] also supply chain challenges in delivering some of the major materials that we need for some of the infrastructure that’s currently underway. So from a trends perspective, those are absolutely the most pressing priority for our members.” 

How does one navigate such pressing crises? 

Well, Simpson uses the analogy of the “flash mob” to illustrate her point. 

“You don’t change behaviours by shaming, or blaming, or rolling your eyes,” she says. 

“Sustainability is a little bit like a flash mob – and not the really well-structured well-choreographed YouTube Instagrammable ones you’re thinking about… You’re in a public space, it’s a beautiful setting, you hear a beat.

“You ou start dancing, you keep dancing, it changes a little bit, but… the rhythm’s there for you and you keep dancing. Some people stand up, some people sit down. Sometimes you’re alone, sometimes you are with others. 

“But it’s quite some time before there’s enough of a crowd for you to sit down without them stopping. And it’s a bit like that in sustainability, and for the team and I at the Infrastructure Sustainability Council. 

“We just keep dancing.”

The Fifth Estate‘s podcast How to Build a Better World is available on all streaming platforms. Click here to listen.

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