Green infrastructure must consider social value: Here’s how
As the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 conference on climate change, we’ll be discussing some of the changes our industry needs to make and reflecting on the COP debate on the AECOM Blog. Join the discussion on social media by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Find more information in our special COP26 edition of our “Future of Infrastructure” report: https://infrastructure.aecom.com
When launching the Clean Green Initiative at COP26, which was designed to help finance sustainable growth initiatives in developing countries, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reflected that “climate has often been a silent victim of economic growth and progress.” However, to fully understand the impact of climate change and our response to it, we must also consider the significant social implications.
The impacts are real, from flood damage to households to the pressure on urban water sources driving up costs and forcing people into water poverty. Guided by public opinion, governments and policy makers are looking at ways of ensuring the transition to a green economy happens in a fair way. The European Union has established the Just Transition Mechanism to offer financial support to alleviate the socio-economic impacts of the move towards a carbon neutral economy, and the Scottish Government has set up a Just Transition Commission to monitor the impacts on communities, with Richard Lockhead as its Minister for Just Transition, Employability and Fair Work.
Environmental, social and governance issues are increasingly the central focus for businesses, too. At AECOM, one of the key pillars of our Sustainable Legacies strategy is improving social outcomes through the projects we deliver.
In Canada, we conducted an environmental assessment for the development of a 300-megawatt wind farm, the largest First Nation wind partnership project in the country. As part of this, we engaged with the local community and delivered local jobs and training, with 15 percent of our project workforce being comprised of First Nation staff. Furthermore, due to the local staff knowledge of the land and proximity to the project site, we were able to more effectively protect and preserve the natural environment and provide time- and cost-saving opportunities for the client.
Through projects such as Henvey Inlet, our teams have distilled a number of lessons for delivering social value:
- Projects should consider the social implications at the earliest stage of decision making in order to embed social value through the project from design to delivery
- Efforts should be made to secure local support and engage in long-term partnerships
- Projects should engage with local people and business to ensure the infrastructure fits local needs and benefits those who will use it. This will also strengthen the project by harnessing local knowledge
- Projects should set tangible goals for delivering social value as part of the project – for example, the percentage of the workforce on big infrastructure projects living locally
- Consider social value beyond the project, building in local capacity through education and training initiatives that leave a legacy, for example.
As we transition to a green economy, we must ensure that the people, businesses and communities affected are not left behind. Similarly, as we design and develop sustainable, climate resilient infrastructure, we must ensure that the social value for local communities is part of the decision-making process.