Urgent action must be taken to establish best practice across the building industry, but if undertaken effectively, it could see the nation become the world leader in sustainable infrastructure.
This is the finding of the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, released today by Infrastructure Australia.
The report highlights the value of Australia's social and economic infrastructure, which currently accounts for 21 percent of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the increased role it will play in meeting the demands and challenges of the future.
While mega-projects have come to be seen as a default solution to these challenges, IA says that a new approach will prove critical going forward, warning, "We cannot simply build ourselves to future success.
"Optimising current assets and networks is often a more efficient and cheaper method of meeting future needs than constructing expensive, long-lived assets. However, this option if often overlooked."
One of the most direct ways in which optimisation can be achieved is through heightened communication and engagement with the industry's most important asset: the user base. Increasingly, Australia's vast communities are seeking greater choice and flexibility in their lives. They are more aware of the world around them than ever before. That's being reflected in their support of projects, and subsequently in the project's success. The report states that $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects have been postponed or cancelled over the last decade due to community opposition.
Paired with the disparity between community expectations surrounding project costs and actual costs, and growing distrust between developers and end users who believe them to be out of touch, it's easy to see the role communication plays in developing sustainable, suitable infrastructure. Users understand infrastructure on a completely different level to developers, and while their suggestions might not always be practical, a different perspective is critical in getting the best results.
Lack of clarity is also having an internal impact on the industry, with project selection not always aligning with quality of life objectives. This results in longer timeframes and increased dissatisfaction from users.
The problem is not one solely faced in the development of major projects either. Across the board, infrastructure projects are growing more complex and costly. Developers are rushing for solutions considering them only in the context of their goal: to get the green light for work to begin. In doing so, they lose sense of the why, when the why is what truly matters.
It's not all bad news though. Despite communication issues, policy uncertainty and concerns that Australia is at risk of not meeting its 2030 Paris Agreement emission reduction targets, the report cites notable potential for the country to lead the world in developing sustainable infrastructure.
"The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), representing the built environment sector, has estimated that taking a building by building approach to emissions reduction could deliver almost $20 billion in savings by 2020, and contribute to achieving a quarter of the emissions reduction required to meet Australia’s Paris carbon emissions target.
"ASBEC points out that buildings may be at the cheaper end of abatement options, through implementing energy efficiency, fuel switching, rooftop solar and smart retrofitting of existing buildings."
The comment is broad, but so are the solutions that could see Australia address sustainability issues in the industry. It is up to builders from every market and any scale to keep these considerations in mind when considering their next project. There is still much work to be done, and it is up to us to do it.
To read the Australian Infrastructure Audit in full, click here.
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