Property Australia

How to step into the net zero zone

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal August 17, 2021

As the world moves towards net zero emissions by 2050, sustainability can’t be just another service offering, says Stantec’s Andrew Williams. “Sustainability needs to be everyone’s KPI.”

The global economy is moving towards the net zero goal at speed. Seventy per cent of the world’s economies, responsible for two thirds of global emissions, have made strong commitments to carbon neutrality, according to the United Nations.

Investors are picking up the pace. The Climate Action 100+ group, which brings together 615 investment firms managing US$55 trillion in assets, is holding the world’s 100 largest carbon emitters to account.

Consumers are also keeping a close eye on climate action, with Deloitte’s 2020 Global Millennial Survey revealing it as the top priority issue for young people.

Momentum is growing, but not a moment too soon. The latest report from the world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warns that only rapid reductions in greenhouse gases this decade can prevent climate disaster.

“The time for action is now. Sustainability is certainty moving from a nice-to-have to an imperative,” says Williams, Stantec’s Queensland sustainability section manager.

Over his 13-plus year career, Williams has designed and delivered sustainability solutions across Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific. His experience stretches from billion-dollar highway upgrades, to a self-sustaining energy community swimming pool, to municipal water infrastructure, to sustainability upgrades on an operational hospital.

While some clients are “truly visionary” in their approach to sustainability, many “still see sustainability as a tick-the-box exercise”. There are times when Williams laments the “disconnect between a stated sustainability strategy and the outcome of the project. We are still not seeing the corporate level ambition cascade down to a project level,” he says.

“Another critical misstep in the meaningful implementation of sustainability strategies is when a project does not include a specialist sustainability consultant,” he says, “The project team will turn up with a shopping list of sustainability initiatives, but little understanding of how each adds value or interacts with each-other.”

Sustainability guidelines become just that – a guide – when faced with competing budget and time constraints. But as the world moves towards net zero, Williams says companies must consider how sustainability is embedded into every step of their decision-making process.

While development is underpinned by commercial imperatives, sustainability is increasingly a critical factor in viability, Williams notes. “Something may stack up on paper today, but will it in the future when carbon pricing, shareholder demand for responsible investment, climate adaptation or resilience are hard realities? This is not a question that everyone is asking – but they soon will be.”

To deliver meaningful sustainability outcomes successfully on development projects large and small requires a serious commitment. How do we do this? Sustainability must be a key performance indicator for everyone, Williams suggests. “Ambition is not enough. We need people to change their mindsets and be courageous in taking credible action.”

In January, Stantec was named the fifth most sustainable corporation in the world, and the most sustainable in North America, by Corporate Knights. Find out why.