City Rail Link has redefined sustainability for the delivery of rail infrastructure projects.
The importance of embedding sustainability into a rail project from the outset may seem like an addition to the many other concerns that beset a rail infrastructure project in its early stages. However, incorporating sustainability outcomes at the beginning can have a significant impact. Even when taking the asset’s 100-year lifecycle – excluding traction power – into account, the embodied carbon in materials and use of energy in construction make up 47 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. (this figure comes from the first two contract packages – C1 and C2 – of Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL).
From the formation of City Rail Link Limited, the crown entity jointly funded by Auckland Council and the New Zealand government, sustainability was core to the project, said Liz Root, principal sustainability advisor to the project. At the start, sustainability was on par with the other major elements of the project when Root joined the project six years ago.
“We were relatively small team of discipline project managers, all as peers, and sustainability was one of the things that we as a project were doing,” said Root.
Having come from the building and construction industry, Root was familiar with the array of codes, guidelines, and ratings, which could certify a building and construction project’s sustainability, but in moving to infrastructure, there was not the same kind of background understanding of the importance of sustainability in a project’s delivery. Early conversations in the project team focused on what sustainability meant for an infrastructure project. Although this could be seen as a disadvantage, for CRL this meant that the project team could redefine sustainability to be appropriate for their context.
New Zealand has a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Auckland Council has a target of zero waste to landfill by 2040. Root and the sustainability team used these goals to help define the project’s own sustainability objectives.
‘We are using the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA)’s Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) framework as a verification tool. It was a case of working with our wider project team to really understand if we just carried on as we were, where might we sit, where might our sustainability performance fall, and where can we stretch ourselves?” said Root.
These discussions were occurring as the first two contracts, C1 and C2, were progressing to early contractor involvement (ECI). Now, as the C3 stations and tunnels contracts are underway, sustainability has been embedded in the project.
“The journey has continued, and our thinking has evolved and enabled us to build an enhanced suite of requirements and expectations into the contracts,” said Root.
CRL has five focus areas within its sustainability strategy – reducing resource consumption, zero waste to landfill, social outcomes, Mana Whenua outcomes, and governance and reporting. Having begun from defining what sustainability means for the project, having these target areas within the IS framework can enable the project to provide measurable outcomes on sustainability, something that Root describes as an evolution for sustainability in infrastructure.
“Ten to fifteen years ago, sustainability was seen as full of tree huggers and hippies, and as something that was an expense, and for me, it’s been really important that the work we do is really tangible and that we calculate and demonstrate the benefits of what we’re working to do,” said Root.
“That is where the IS framework comes in. We’re setting ourselves targets in this space and challenging ourselves to reduce our footprint, to reduce our waste and here’s an independent industry body that can verify the work that we’re doing.”
WORKING TOWARDS OUTCOMES
While the IS Framework is an important part of CRL’s sustainability strategy, Root highlights that the tool itself is not the goal.
“I’ve worked with rating tools in the built environment and infrastructure in the UK, Australia and NZ, with mixed feelings, and from a sustainability practitioner point of view, the rating tool is not really the end point, you want to deliver better outcomes, and deliver the project as efficiently and effectively as you can.”
This approach led to CRL using the ISCA verification tool to quantify outcomes.
“We want a particular performance in the IS rating to demonstrate that we’re at a particular level in our sustainability performance. We’ve already said resource consumption and zero waste to landfill are really important so we’re going to focus our contractors on those parts of the tools, as well as the additional criteria around those areas, and ensure that it gets verified at the highest level of performance.”
Another area for CRL was making sure that the project reflected Mana Whenua cultural principles. While in NZ, under the Resources Management Act (RMA), projects such as CRL are required to engage with local Māori iwi or tribes. Since 2012, CRL had adopted a more in-depth form of collaboration with eight iwi in the Auckland area. This partnership has been structured through the Mana Whenua Forum, which is formalised in the project’s legally binding consent conditions. With CRL having adopted the IS Framework, Root was invited to present to the Forum on the project’s sustainability focus.
“At these types of presentations, people normally politely listen to what you’re saying and ask you the odd question or nod along. At the Mana Whenua Forum, I mentioned using the IS Framework, and it was not the polite nods and smiles and the odd question it was – I’m paraphrasing – ‘What are you thinking using an Australian framework?’” said Root.
“Australians are not known for their reputation of engaging well with their Indigenous people, so I came away from that meeting thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ but it was really the start of something fantastic. It was the start of numerous conversations, numerous hui [meetings] where I was sharing detail on the IS Framework, and actually going into some of the technical nuances around the criteria. It was a two-way process where Mana Whenua shared their world view.”
These discussions have led to the project embracing Māori principles of Kaitiakitanga, which covers ensuring the welfare of the people and the environment, while also fulfilling spiritual and emotional responsibilities to the environment and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Māori view of the interconnectedness of living and non-living things. These principles then informed an adaptation of the IS Framework, which is one of the first in the world to incorporate indigenous cultural values. Within the project, the positive relationship with Mana Whenua has led to the design of stations and surrounding precincts incorporating cultural narratives. The project won international architectural awards for doing so, while also defining a process by which other projects could more deeply engage with their social and cultural context.
“Now other projects might use the same process that we used to engage with their local iwi around how their cultural considerations could be incorporated. The precedent that we set is a process of collaboration,” said Root.
CRL’s collaboration with iwi through the Mana Whenua Forum provided another lens to analyse the project, in a similar way to how the sustainability team are able to appraise work on CRL. As Root describes, having these lenses can add value to an infrastructure project.
“We are really trying to do things better, more efficiently, and more effectively. It’s a slightly different lens and some of the value is actually maybe a different way of thinking.”
Rather than an add on, sustainability within the CRL has been a tool for the project to achieve better outcomes.
“I don’t think we’re ever trying to tell an engineer how to do their job, but instead we are saying can you achieve the same outcome with a bit less waste. For example, those temporary piles that we’re designing, is that something that can get removed afterwards for reuse rather than being buried?”
With sustainability sitting at the top as an overarching goal for the project, part of the challenge is to ensure this thinking percolates down into the contractors and subcontractors who carry out the project. Root has been enthused to see this happening at all levels of the project.
“They’re suddenly doing a rejig of the C1 office space as the project changes and I’m there ready to ask that question again, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t need the desks or the chairs anymore?’ and they’ve already connected with a community group and it goes to charities to help them with their office space.”
Materials salvaged from office blocks and factories being demolished for the project have been shipped to the Pacific Kingdom of Tonga for re-use, and one of Auckland’s last remaining 19th century cottages was saved from demolition and transported to a new site 70 kilometres away.
Achieving this, however, begins at the most fundamental level, highlighted Root.
“It starts with procurement.You make it really clear in your contract what you want and, having worked in construction in the past, some of the contractors would think we don’t actually need to worry about sustainability because the client doesn’t check. We, CRL, have been a team that cares. We care about the reporting and if you look at our statement of intent and our statement of performance expectations, which are our governance documents, we report to our sponsors on sustainability outcomes.”
Just as the project looks to deliver 100 years of safe, electrically powered mobility for Auckland, the project’s scale means that in construction, it can have many generations of impact.
“We’re trying to share the learnings and talk about what value has been created so that other people can see the value in delivering infrastructure sustainably, creating a new ‘normal’. With the scale of CRL, we’re also impacting a significant portion of the infrastructure supply chain and seeing them upskill. Making it easier for the supply chain to deliver things more sustainably is a positive legacy for CRL, with benefits for the contracting industry and the wider community as well,” said Root.