A choice to shine or be left behind


The global stimulus spend on infrastructure has led to a call for it to do more than create an asset


The call represents both a risk and an opportunity for the sector. “It’s less about the what – the physical or engineering solutions – and more about how that infrastructure is delivered and how it will perform across the life cycle of the asset for the communities it serves,” says Infrastructure Sustainability Council GM Adrienne Miller.

The shift from asset to impact outcomes is much more apparent in our post Covid world driven by the stimulus spend, much- heralded changes in the physical world creating a need to consider asset resilience in the face of climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. “We are also seeing vast changes in terms of human expectations and social licence,” she says.

Stakeholders are discerning consumers
Customers and the purchasers of services increasingly are not just the passive recipients of goods and services. They are more discerning “consumers” with expectations of both the goods and services they buy and the organisations that produce them.
Taxpayers, ratepayers and shareholders have started to develop a conscience about what they pay for and invest in and to hold organisations to account where they stray from those expectations.
Staff too have expectations. They want their companies to do more than provide a pay check –they want them to do good and act with purpose.
Stakeholders care about the immediate and far flung reaches of an organisation’s supply chain. And that’s not just a source of goods and services.
It’s the impact every single linkage in the supply chain has on environment, carbon emissions, the way they treat their staff, communities in which they work and cultures they encounter along the way.

Indigenous perspectives
As well as environmental and ecological considerations, there’s a need to be applying an ethical and human centric lens and one that is also respectful of other cultures and their world views. There’s seemingly a greater acceptance that indigenous cultures may have insights about the horizons and the interconnections required when we take a big picture, system based, approach.
Here in Aotearoa we are already starting to see greater recognition for the role of Te Ao Māori and Mātauranga Māori in informing approaches and a mainstreaming of the concept of kaitiakitanga or stewardship.

There’s also a growing demand to recognise partnering with Tangata Whenua at a project governance level to honour Te Tiriti. This is a change in maturity to “inclusion of”, rather than a “consulting with” approach.

Sustainability maturity curve
Sustainability is about viability and social licence, not just environmental considerations and is following a similar maturity curve to what the sector has seen with health and safety.
It’s becoming less about compliance with rules and more about culture and
approach and acting in a values-aligned and purpose-driven way.
All this stakeholder expectation is amplified by social media – a democratised and easy access platform for good and bad, skewing views inside echo chambers that makes it hard to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Consumer experience of technology too is a driver – it has both enabled analysis and data collection (it is possible to know pretty much anything) and has raised the bar on expectations on what can be done and by when. Its 24/7 immediacy.

Legal and regulatory
There’s a pincer movement in play between procurer and stakeholder demand (a pull factor) and regulatory, reform and reporting change (a push factor) playing out –particularly in the context of climate change response.
We have climate-related financial disclosures regime that will be mandatory for publicly listed companies and large insurers, banks and investment managers implementing a Mark Carney, TCFD-like, approach.
The goal of these mandatory climate-related financial disclosures is to:

  • promote greater transparency and more accurate pricing signals in the market
  • incentivise low-emissions investment
  • create a level-playing field for businesses already considering climate change

Ultimately, it is considered that finance and insurance will be differentially priced based on action on climate issues providing the right incentives to:

  • the necessary investment on mitigation and adaptation (to address physical and transition risk)
  • ensure resilience in the face of Climate change
  • reduce the risk of stranded assets
    We are starting to see increasing sustainable finance and green, social and sustainability bond offerings. We also have some clear analysis from both offshore (the latest IPCC report on physical climate change is the most strident yet) and here in New Zealand (in the form of the National Climate Change Risk Assessment out of our Ministry for the Environment, advice from the New Zealand Climate Change Commission a draft Adaptation plan and now an Emission Reduction Plan) on what is required in terms of climate response.
Legislation playing catch up
Although amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 have been in place since 2019 requiring councils to promote social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being (the four well-beings) in other areas the law is playing catch up.
Even the new RMA reform mirrors this change in approach moving from an effects to an impact based approach.
It’s become increasingly clearer what the risks are and that we need to urgently take action to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Decision makers
Much has also been written about the responsibility of directors and decision makers.
Suffice to say there are clear conclusions reached that suggest directors’ fiduciary duties and the role of those responsible for designing, building and operating assets are quite different than they once were, with a private member’s bill making it doubly clear for company directors.

Sustainability also an opportunity
Adopting a sustainable approach is both a way to address this risk, and opportunity to shine for those that understand and get ahead of the pack. As well as an ability to win work, there are benefits in the battle for talent.
Recruitment and retention of staff will be easier for those that are on board and authentically leading with purpose.
Organisations in the sector have a choice between choosing to adjust to this new approach and shine, or where they do not, run the risk of being left behind, as other organisations seize the opportunity that sustainability represents.


The publishers of AsiaPacific Infrastructure, Property&Build and Industrial Safety News welcome Infrastructure Sustainability Council  (ISC) as a Content Partner.
General Manager, New Zealand Adrienne Miller, is a lawyer who, as well as her role at the ISC, has served on the Building Advisory Panel at MBIE, Infrastructure New Zealand’s WIN Advisory Board and is a trustee on the Board of Diversity Works New Zealand. She is involved in mentoring programmes and writes and speaks on issues facing the construction and infrastructure sector.

A version of this article was written by Adrienne Miller as part of the COP26 discourse in what she calls the “third zone” in LinkedIn and Legalwise