Sustainability Is Not a Nice to Have


When we view the ideas of sustainability, we typically apply three lenses to our thinking.

  • Social impact – the benefits to the community
  • Economic impact – the economic impacts that a project will deliver and support
  • Environmental impact – the environmental goals addressed

The sweet spot is where the three lenses overlap to create benefit across all aspects.

For example, recycling redundant road materials to construct a new road. This approach is cheaper than building from new materials, is less impactful on the environment and provides a means of transportation efficiencies for communities and business.

When the Government takes the lead in determining assets to construct, sustainability plays an important role in the decision-making process. As a result, we see an increased focus on materials, processes and practices that support sustainability yet ensure that the social and economic impacts of a project are not lost.

When a project begins to move forward with nominated objectives, we become involved.  Our viewpoint as cost estimators, planners and risk managers is to focus on the efficiency innovation perspective of the constructability of the asset to be built. Much of that viewpoint revolves around material usage and construction operation efficiencies, supporting the environmental sustainability of a project.


In the context of civil infrastructure construction, our focus is on the most efficient use of raw inputs such as oil (bitumen), quarry materials, cement. This makes economic sense for the project and also reduces the requirement for material production and transportation.

We are seeing a growing trend in projects utilising new construction methodologies to limit raw material input, for example, through the in-situ stabilisation of existing pavements rather than the construction of new ones. Incorporating waste materials from other sectors is another way to improve sustainability and reduce cost. Fly ash, a waste product from power stations, can be utilised in cement blends, and recycled glass or tyres can be added to asphalt for road surfacing.

To achieve sustainability within a project and achieve environment material goals, planning a project well to gain the best benefit of raw and recycled materials is a critical part of improving construction sustainability.


However, while it is a desire to achieve sustainability across a project, it is also vital that the balance of the whole of life impacts is considered. While the environmental outcomes of a project are important, they cannot detract from the economics of a project. We must always consider if it is worth building an asset with a large volume of recycled materials if the quality achieved requires the asset to require greater ongoing maintenance, cause it to have a significantly shorter lifespan, or to be re-built.

Many Department of Transport and Main Road projects we have been involved with have a clear focus on sustainability during planning phases. As a government department that, in many ways, are the leading constructor of major assets in Queensland, this is an important approach. It ensures that major Government works support a sustainable approach.

In addition, projects over $100M undertake a sustainability assessment with the aim of achieving an excellent rating from the Infrastructure Sustainability Council Australia (ISCA). This is another important step in showing leadership in the sector that will raise standards across the industry.

With any changing landscape, opportunities are created for the industry to innovate commercially competitive services that support the increased push for sustainability. An example we have seen is locating recycling centres in areas with multiple capabilities on project sites. We have encountered situations where the cost of transferring materials to the recycling centre exceeded the cost to tip to landfill, accounting for shorter distances and tip fees. However, the recent waste levy fee does adjust the balance, favouring longer hauls to recycling centres. The challenge is to bring the overlap of sustainable environmental and economic practices, which mobile recycling centres may address.


There is no doubt that the push for sustainability will continue, as it should if we are to meet the objectives of social, economic, and environmental benefits.

In Queensland, the Department of Transport and Main Roads has undertaken and continue to undertake some innovative research in re-using pavement materials and continue to work with designers, industry and the supply chain to adjust specifications to support change.

However, the application of sustainability in projects of any scale is indeed challenging.  But on many projects, we are seeing new examples of practices and materials supporting sustainability. At the recent Queensland Major Contractors Association Innovation and Excellence Awards, many awards were won by projects that utilised sustainable practices or were in direct response to environmental challenges.  Winners included the Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway Project, which saw the Fulton Hogan Seymour White Joint Venture and Soil Cyclers win the Ian Harrington Award for their approach to soil remediation across the project.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads as a major client to the civil construction industry, can lead the way and build on the work already undertaken. We are already seeing great examples of policy cascading down to some actionable initiatives:

The next step is to expedite change further and could involve the use of innovative specifications that can change behaviours.  Potential suggestions that could be incorporated:

  • Clear inclusion of sustainability as part of the tender process
  • Defined measurable targets and goals
  • Consideration for all size and scale of projects, with sustainability criteria achievable on $2m to $200m jobs, as well as mega projects

This approach would enable the industry to have clear guidance on parameters and to be able to supply the materials that will re-shape, evolve and change the sustainable footprint of the sector.

Comments are closed.