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Communication with contractors vital for positive climate outcomes

civil sustainability Communication with contractors vital for positive climate outcomes peter silcock

With everything else going on in the world at the moment, it’s easy to forget about the looming threat of climate change. Peter Silcock, chief executive, Civil Contractors New Zealand comments.

It’s a slower burn than many issues we are facing, but it has been brought into sharper focus this year by New Zealand’s declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ and the release of the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice to Government. 

The Commission’s draft advice, which is currently being consulted on, calls for “transformational change across all sectors of the economy”. This advice will accelerate our response to ‘climate change’ and will have a significant impact on how local government operates and the way many civil infrastructure projects are run. 

Both central and local government are already building greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainability requirements into their procurement processes, with flow on implications for those doing the work.

It has been outstanding to see a growing number of civil contractors taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint using vehicle fleet monitoring technology, introducing new vehicles with energy efficient engines, using biodiesel or electric vehicles where possible, building energy efficient offices and switching to alternative energy in workshops. 

Some businesses are also looking for fuel efficiencies by fitting vehicles with more energy-efficient tyres and exploring hydrogen as an option for use in the years ahead. 

But despite all these efforts, there is no hiding from the fact that there are big challenges around the technology available to covert our heavy vehicle and equipment fleet. The Commission’s report recognises this with a range of different strategies and timeframes included in their initial recommendations.

As we make this transition it is vital that the Government and councils work closely with industry on the practicalities and financial impacts of the changes, and clearly communicate their expectations to contractors working on civil projects. 

Be clear on project expectations

Clarity around targets, measures and requirements is critical for the success of any project. Councils and others managing large projects can minimise costs and maximise productivity by adopting a consistent approach to the way carbon reduction targets and other sustainability requirements are included in tenders and measured. 

It’s easier for contractors to help councils achieve their desired targets if requirements are clearly communicated – a list of specifics is likely to achieve better results than a blanket directive to reduce carbon emissions by ‘x percent’. 

Councils should also factor in the costs of complying with any requirements they are adding in. New requirements can incur additional costs so it is important that allowances are made for these within project budgets. 

Standardising on a single set of targets and measures across local and central government is another area that can add value. Having to operate in different ways for different projects adds considerable costs for civil construction companies and increases the complexity of project management for councils and contractors alike.

The framework provided by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) is a good starting point, and one that is now gaining popularity among New Zealand councils and central government agencies when developing sustainability targets and the standards for projects. 

The Transport Agency is now using the ISCA rating scheme for larger projects and some councils have also begun using it for their higher value projects.

Work together with contractors

Councils and agencies that want to achieve the best results should actively engage with contractors working on their projects. 

Some councils are already engaging with their local branch of Civil Contractors New Zealand to gather views and share messages around climate change expectations. There’s a real opportunity for this to happen right across the country.

For our part, Civil Contractors New Zealand is working directly with the hundreds of companies that make up our membership. Knowing your  ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ output is critical if you want to measure improvements, so helping civil construction companies to audit their emissions’ footprint has been an important focus for us. In this regard, the Toitu Envirocare certification programmes are a good resource for many companies as they provide actionable steps, along with certification. 

Companies such as EROAD and Teletrac Navman can also play a big role in helping companies understand their emissions’ footprint by arming them with telematics and making GPS monitoring easier.

It is through collaborative approaches like these, and the smart use of technology that we will make the biggest strides forward in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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