By Nicole Neal, Chief Executive Australia, Tonkin + Taylor
When it comes to sustainability in the utility industry, a broader perspective is needed to navigate the complex landscape effectively.
While the focus is often on the visible networks and services above the surface, true sustainability requires us to consider what lies beneath. The phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is, unfortunately, rather apt here. Underground operations form the cornerstone of every project, yet these unseen elements frequently escape our attention, despite their significant environmental implications.
Let’s explore five key beneath-ground sustainability factors and how experienced sustainability practitioners can guide utilities towards creating a more sustainable future.
1. Environmental impacts and ecosystem protection
Underground activities in the utility sector can disrupt natural habitats and contaminate soil and water resources. It is imperative to employ stringent environmental management strategies, which include exhaustive impact assessments and proactive protective measures. These steps are essential to establishing operations that are not only sustainable, but also coexist harmoniously with nature.
Continual environmental monitoring and assessments are crucial to remaining informed about your operation’s environmental impact. The importance of Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting in meeting regulatory requirements and maintaining transparency must be considered. As industry leaders, we are responsible for pursuing sustainability beneath the surface while upholding rigorous environmental standards.
2. Climate change risk, adaptation, and mitigation
As the climate changes, our response should adapt accordingly. Extreme weather events pose a growing threat to service delivery and environmental sustainability. Prioritising infrastructure resilience through planning, stormwater management, and climate adaptation measures can minimise the effects of climate change. Collaborating with climate risk and mitigation experts can provide the necessary support, from natural hazard modelling to greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans, strengthening the resilience of our infrastructure.
3. Material selection and usage
Traditional construction materials like steel and concrete have significant carbon footprints. We must embrace alternative materials with lower environmental impact and sustainable sourcing practices to escape this carbonintensive cycle. Shifting our material selection towards greener options paves the way for a more sustainable future.
4. Effective waste management
Construction and maintenance activities generate substantial waste. We must outgrow the conventional “take-make-dispose” model, adopting recycling, reuse, and responsible disposal strategies. This approach minimises waste generation, diverts materials from landfills, contributes to a circular economy, and uncovers the overlooked potential of discarded resources.
5. Working holistically
Confronting sustainability challenges necessitates an integrated, holistic approach. This approach entails incorporating sustainable design principles, leveraging technological advancements, engaging stakeholders effectively, and driving ongoing monitoring and improvements.
Collaboration amongst utility companies, industry bodies like the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, environmental experts, and community stakeholders is vital for instigating significant change and accomplishing longterm sustainability goals beneath the ground. Sustainability is a complex field; each utility has unique factors to consider. If you find yourself seeking strategies to reduce your environmental footprint or boost your asset resilience – both above and below the surface – consider partnering with sustainability experts.
At Tonkin + Taylor, our expert environmental and geotechnical consultants are dedicated to providing sustainable solutions. We empower our clients to achieve their sustainability goals, as together, we create and sustain a better world.