Making infrastructure sustainable offers a bigger bang for our buck

Canberra Metro received an 'Excellent' Design v1.2 IS Rating. Image from ISCA.

Infrastructure’s social licence to operate is in jeopardy thanks to the community’s construction fatigue and sheer opposition, with around $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects delayed, cancelled or mothballed over the past decade. Making these projects certified under a sustainability rating scheme could turn the tide.

All eyes are on infrastructure to kickstart the Australian economy after COVID-19 and now new analysis shows that sustainable infrastructure could deliver bigger dividends than conventional options.

Numbers crunched by global consultancy firm RPS Group show that infrastructure projects rated through the Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme (IS Rating Scheme) are set to deliver a minimum of $1.60 and as much as $2.40 in benefit for every dollar spent.

“Our study makes the business case clear: sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Importantly, the non-market benefits of infrastructure should not be limited to major projects,” Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia chief executive officer Ainsley Simpson said.

The economic benefit to Australian could be even bigger if more projects were covered by the IS Rating Scheme, which measures and verifies sustainability performance throughout the project lifecycle.

“If uptake of the IS Rating Scheme was doubled, the net benefit would soar to $90.7 million. All infrastructure – urban and regional, large and small, new and ageing – can deliver more for our communities.”

The independent cost benefit analysis accounted for financial saving gleaned through accumulated reductions in energy (14 per cent less than infrastructure delivered according to standard practice), water (27 per cent less) and materials (31 per cent less), among other savings.

The analysis only looked at financial benefits even though sustainable infrastructure also offers a range of non-monetary benefits such as lower emissions, better air quality and increased liveability.

ISCA is calling for governments to mandate the scheme IS Rating Scheme as a way to navigate economic recovery without sacrificing environmental outcomes.

“Infrastructure investment can help us achieve strong economic outcomes for Australia as we bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis. But we need to ensure we are spending our money wisely,” Ms Simpson said.

“Infrastructure Australia estimates that $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects were delayed, cancelled or mothballed over the last decade due to community opposition. Construction fatigue has put pressure on communities and jeopardised the industry’s social licence.

“By mandating the IS Rating Scheme, governments can help us pivot from past practices and invest in sustainable infrastructure that de-risks assets, boosts financial performance and, most importantly, builds a better future for generations.”

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