Unearthing Sustainability Below the Ground: insights from Tony Scott

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Sustainability has been a fundamental element of planning and environmental legislation since the 1980s and 1990s. In more recent times, developers have recognized the benefit of the ‘green premium’ associated with sustainable development, to ensure a better return on their bottom line.

Here, Senior Principal and Environments Specialist, Tony Scott talks all things sustainability and candidly explains how Tetra Tech Coffey are making inroads into this ever-evolving space.

Over the past decade we have seen the movement of large organisations and blue-chip tenants aligning their brands with green buildings or green infrastructure. Locally, here in Australia, the Department of Planning put in place several policies which require a range of infrastructure developments to achieve certain green credentials.

Across the property sector, the phenomenon is supported by the Green Building Council of Australia, who have their own Green Star rating system. Across in infrastructure, there is the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC – formerly ISCA), which has a rating system for sustainability within the transport, water, energy and communication sectors. It is often mandatory for ISC ratings to be achieved for infrastructure projects.

As a member of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) Tetra Tech Coffey have actively contributed to projects seeking a ISC rating and have also contributed to aspects of their rating guidelines. We received a Certificate of Appreciation for our work on the North Link in Western Australia which received the highest rated infrastructure project on a sustainability basis at the time. Something that we are very proud of here, and the drive to deliver sustainability across projects is very much a part of our thinking at Tetra Tech.

Most recently Tetra Tech Coffey have worked on a number of major infrastructure projects which include Sydney Gateway, the M6 Extension, Western Sydney Airport and Parramatta Light Rail, all which have stringent ISC rating requirements.  In the property sector, there are major urban renewal projects under construction in Sydney at the moment. Some of these include Barangaroo, Central to Eveleigh, Green Square and most recently the Sydney Modern Project. These projects are designed as world class precincts where sustainable development is a key component of the project.

“While above ground sustainability aspects are well developed; it is sustainability below the ground that hasn’t evolved to the same degree – it is in this space where the opportunities for Tetra Tech Coffey lies.”

So, are we already doing things that are sustainable in the work we do?

You may be surprised to learn that our work does have an impact on the sustainability of projects. From a Geotechnical engineer’s perspective, it is referred to as ‘Value Engineering’, which is where we look to save money for our clients. Quite often, it is Value Engineering that contributes to sustainability, and we achieve this by looking at what we do with a different lens on every project we approach.

Realising the opportunity – a case study in focus

A recent development project in Sydney demonstrated the opportunities in sustainability for our business.

Through a performance-based design philosophy and from a ‘Value Engineering’ aspect, our Geotechnical engineers were able to reduce socket lengths for piles by 40 – 50% resulting in a saving of approximately $AU10,000,000 for our client. Evaluating this from a sustainability perspective, if socket lengths are indeed 40-50% or less over 1000 piles means there is a significant reduction in resources utilised. From a sustainability aspect, the knock-on effect is considerable with less concrete used, less steel, less trucks on the road and less waste generated – providing enhanced social and environmental outcomes and contributing to the project’s sustainability (or Green Star) rating.

Our work also contributed significantly to resource efficiency, had a reduction in environmental impacts, including a decrease in greenhouse gases and had a dramatic reduction on the social impact of the surrounding community.

We can unearth the sustainability opportunities beneath the ground, and we can add to the sustainability ratings of our clients on their projects. We can achieve this by continuing to work as we are, but we need to view our work from a sustainability perspective rather than just Value Engineering.

The benefit of being part of Tetra Tech Coffey is working alongside a great team of experts in this field. My colleague, Geotechnical Engineer Patrick Wong says ”looking at value engineering and just looking at cost is ‘business as usual’, but we can do much more by considering options from a sustainability viewpoint.  This can be achieved by working closely with our clients’ sustainability personnel, by considering the embedded carbon footprint, social and environmental impacts of each option, as well as time and cost to allow our clients to make informed decisions.”  There are great opportunities for sustainability within the Geotechnical and Environmental teams.

I truly believe that this is an exciting time for our industry in that we can go further. There is so much that consultants like the team here at Tetra Tech Coffey can do to unlock the often unseen below ground sustainability opportunity and we can do better both to empower our clients to take a different approach to how they can achieve sustainability.

Tony Scott is a Senior Principal Environmental Consultant at Tetra Tech Coffey and is accredited with the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority as a Site Auditor.

Connect with Tony here tony.scott@tetratech.com

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