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Sustainability in Focus for Civil Contractors

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“Sustainability is more than just a licence to operate – it’s about a licence to survive”

- Steve Webster, Chief Infrastructure Officer at Watercare

At the last Civil Contractors New Zealand Branch meeting in Auckland on the 12th of April, it was obvious that the tide has turned when it comes to sustainability in construction. What used to be a ‘nice to have’, is now very much a ‘must have’. To summarise the words of most of the speakers:

“The public, the government and clients want sustainability, so get on board, or get left behind”.  

Public and government sentiment is important for construction, as 75% of the wider construction industry’s customer base are central and local governments who face public pressure. Environmentally conscious millennials and generation Z now make up the majority of the workforce in New Zealand and they are moving into management positions. They are increasingly demanding sustainable behaviour from businesses – after all, it’s their future at stake. Furthermore, with the changes in the NZ Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, there is now also legal pressure to procure from sustainable businesses.

Teletrac Navman’s 2020 Construction Industry Survey found that:

  • More than 1 in 3 (37 percent) of contractors say that their clients had indicated that the contractor’s sustainability practices will impact their procurement decisions.
  • 1 in 5 (20 percent) of contractors noted that the inclusion of more environmental outcomes in procurement is already affecting their business.

This is linked to the fact that construction play a leading role in New Zealand’s carbon emissions. In 2018, New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 78.9 million tonnes of CO2 – 24.0 percent higher than 1990. Carbon dioxide emissions were mainly produced by transport (47.0 percent), manufacturing industries and construction (17.9 percent), and public electricity and heat production (9.4 percent).


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There are lots of ways players in the construction industry can make a positive difference to the environment and help curb climate change. During the CCNZ branch meeting, ISCA, Waka Kotahi/ NZ Transport Agency, Watercare and Ngā Puna Pūkenga provided some great examples of how the New Zealand construction companies can take social and environmental action in the industry: 

  • ISCA– The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) is a member-based, not-for-profit peak body operating in Australia and New Zealand working to enable sustainability outcomes in infrastructure. ISCA’s IS rating scheme was launched in 2012, and has since measured the social, environmental, governance and cultural outcomes delivered by more than $200 billion major infrastructure projects. ISCA’s sustainability rating framework has been used on Auckland’s City Rail Link project and the Northern Interceptor. The framework is a recognised way for construction companies to set a baseline to measure from and report on progress in both Australia and New Zealand.

  • Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency– NZTA use the ISCA framework, and going forward they will require that all contractors on projects of more than $100 million will also use the  Brett Gliddon, General Manager of Transport Services at Waka Kotahi, noted that: “Applying the ISCA rating scheme gives us the opportunity to collaborate more with the industry, push for more sustainable outcomes and develop our own practices to more effectively deliver for our communities and our environment, now and in the future. We are excited about the opportunities the ISCA tool will give us to consider what is possible from a sustainability perspective for our projects.”

  • Watercare– Owned by Auckland Council, Watercare manage Auckland’s water assets and systems. Their sustainability target is referred to as 40:20:20
    • A 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2024
    • A 20% reduction in cost
    • A 20% improvement in wellbeing/health and safety

Steve Webster, Chief Infrastructure Officer​ at Watercare, says that they’re responding to the shift in society: sustainability is what people want – both Watercare staff and the Auckland public. Watercare found that 54% of their carbon emissions came from the building of their projects, so they are expecting that the construction industry will start to provide solutions that support their sustainability goals.

  • Ngā Puna Pūkenga– from the social side of sustainability, we heard from Ngā Puna Pūkenga / Skills for Industry programme, which is a collaboration between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Auckland Council. The aim of the programme is to get beneficiaries or other job seekers into the construction industry with financial and mentoring support provided by MSD. The programme helps construction companies offer sustainable employment outcomes for their local community.

The tech industry is also developing new ways to help contractors meet their own and their clients’ sustainability targets without bearing unreasonable costs. In fact, many sustainability-focused technologies will help reduce costs by limiting the waste of materials and energy.

In the year ahead, contractors will need to keep their eye on the bottom line while also considering how they can future proof their business. Sustainability measures, aided by useful technology, such as equipment management software, will undoubtedly be an important part of delivering future construction projects in New Zealand.

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