“Net zero 2025 is the right thing to do”, says Aurecon’s Tracey Ryan

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Aurecon’s New Zealand Managing Director & FIDIC Chair of Sustainable Development Committee talks climate risk, biomimicry and the need for a holistic approach to circularity, decarbonisation and resilience as Aurecon progresses towards its own net zero commitment.

Few industries will be able to turn the commitments made at COP26 into action quite like the infrastructure sector. We speak with Tracey Ryan (TR), Managing Director, New Zealand for Aurecon and Chair of FIDIC’s Sustainable Development Committee about their plans for rapid decarbonisation.

IG: Aurecon has taken a significant step in aiming for net zero by 2025. So, what inspired you to target 2025 and how are you setting about the complex process of decarbonising across a diversity of assets, people and operations?

TR: “The world has entered a transformational decade for addressing climate change where more than 60 per cent of countries and almost every developed economy has committed to some form of ‘net zero’ carbon emissions goal. Not only as engineers, scientists, designers and advisors but also as innovators and individuals acting on climate change, we felt a strong responsibility to actively participate in that journey.”

“Part of the inspiration for our 2025 commitment is our clients, partners and employees who all care about climate change and expect any organisation that they work with to care as well. And part of the inspiration is simply that we know this is the right thing to do.”

“We have to recognise as well, that there has been a profound shift over the past couple of years. It has become clearer that organisations now need to lead with purpose in order to truly thrive. We recognised that shift some time ago and have put a lot of work into Aurecon’s purpose so that our employees can align to what we are trying to achieve.  It’s also an important part of attracting and retaining people, which is going to play a vital role for the whole industry moving forward.”  

“We have signed up to the UN Global Compact”. Tracey Ryan

“So, by 2025 Aurecon will implement measures to reduce direct emissions from owned or controlled sources (Scope 1); indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used by Aurecon (Scope 2); and all other indirect emissions from Aurecon activities we do not own or control, such as activities associated with business travel, procurement, waste and water.”

“We have embedded six key areas that will help create a healthier future for people and for our planet.  Those key areas are our carbon footprint, leadership, partners, our people, projects and our stakeholders.”

IG: And on a practical level, how do you monitor your success at this?

TR: “We have signed up to the UN Global Compact which gave us guidance as to the areas we needed to focus on – such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Aurecon is committed to helping achieve these goals and while our biggest contribution comes from the work we do with our clients, within Aurecon our immediate focus is on the contribution we can make through SDGs 3, 5 and 13 – Good health and wellbeing, Gender equality, and Climate action”

“We were already benchmarking ourselves against many of the goals but the process of formally identifying and reporting on them has been invaluable.  It means that we are able to be transparent and communicate to both our external and internal stakeholders about what we are doing.” 

“we couldn’t hold our heads up high if we were advising our clients and not looking to decarbonise our business”. Tracey Ryan

IG: Your annual reporting suggests you’ve cut more than a third of your carbon since 2018. Are you finding that your own progress and experience changes the way you approach projects and work with clients? Is it in effect, a chance to learn early so as to help reshape the wider world with that learning?  

TR: “We have been working with our clients to help them on their low carbon future journey for some time. We also put a lot of work into recognising there were two separate approaches as to how we can make a difference in the climate change challenge – by looking at our internal operations and by working with our clients. Those are separate aspects; however, we couldn’t hold our heads up high if we were advising our clients and not looking to decarbonise our business operations at the same time.”

“We work with organisations and governments to protect and enhance their performance by responding to the risks and opportunities presented by sustainability and climate change. That risk includes transition risks and physical risks.

IG: So what drives the transition risks?

TR:Transition risks are risks linked to the transformation towards a low-carbon economy. The key drivers of transition risk are social value and stakeholder expectations, followed by regulatory changes that reflect both the social and political shifts and technological changes involved in decarbonisation.”

“Transition risk straddles assets and operations and can result in business models becoming obsolete. Careful navigation of transition risks can help us harness opportunities provided by a low-carbon economy when developing strategies, policies and projects.”

IG: And how does that contrast with physical risks?

TR: “Physical risks come from the direct effects of climate change. This includes more frequent and extreme weather events and changes to baseline conditions, such as sea level and air temperature. Physical risks also cause damage to property, can affect the performance of assets and impact the valuations of financial assets.”

“Careful management of these risks can mitigate increased recovery costs, disrupted supply chains, and product redundancy. While adaptation strategies help to increase society’s resilience to climate change.”

“we will see a greater adoption of nature-based solutions and new relationships between technology and nature”. Tracey Ryan

IG: While decarbonisation gets much of the attention when world leaders meet at events like COP26, there is also a strong need across the industry to address circularity and resilience. Is there a risk that as the world resources net zero, finance and expertise may be limited for those equally important agendas, or are you seeing a more holistic dynamic emerge between nature and the built environment?

TR: “We have to take a holistic approach to the challenge. There is a wider picture of what we need to do and we can’t afford to look at each one of these issues in isolation.”

“Circularity and resilience are important factors and do play a large part in getting to net zero. A circular economy for instance, will be important to getting our communities on board the climate change journey.  It allows for individuals to play their part and allows for business of all sizes to look at their practices – for instance in waste management.”

“As a result, the shift in dynamics is more around transparency where we are now seeing many businesses ‘outed’ for practices that do not align with stakeholders’ expectations – whether those stakeholders are customers, employees or communities.”

“Resilient infrastructure is also critical in this, especially when you look at how we respond to physical risks around climate change. Careful management of physical risks can mitigate increased recovery costs, disrupted supply chains, and product redundancy. At the same time, adaptation strategies help to increase society’s resilience to climate change.

“So to achieve our goals we will need all targets to align with each other as they connect and interact with each other.” 

IG: And to achieve those goals, we need to offer tangible solutions – not only for clients and their projects, but so that the world can see how big commitments can be turned into outcomes. What are the key innovations, approaches and technologies the world should be adopting more widely in the built environment?  

TR: “I think we are going to see so much more innovation as we respond to the climate change challenge.  It’s an exciting opportunity for our industry. We are going to see more strategic partnerships, where different organisations come together to collaborate and join forces to help with some of the big challenges.

“I also think we will see a greater adoption of nature-based solutions and new relationships between technology and nature. In fact, Aurecon’s futurist, Noriko Wynn, just wrote a fantastic article around how there are many examples of trying to reproduce what the natural world has already mastered in a process known as biomimicry.” 

“And then there are conventional technologies and enhancements to design that we can harness. Data and asset management are going to play an important role in decarbonisation and a great deal will be needed across the energy sector, with not only increased generating capacity but also expansion of battery storage and the development of green hydrogen for energy transportation.”

“Finally, passive housing and passive buildings are now being implemented in the commercial sector, and is starting to be trialled in public housing. Our very own Kāinga Ora public housing pilot and the Woodside Building for Technology and Design have been held up as examples on the Build Better Now’ virtual pavilion at COP26.”

“All of this, if we as an industry can help the world see what is possible, can enable net zero to be achieved and climate change to be halted.”  

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