The National Development Plan will invest R4-trillion in infrastructure over the next 15 years, and as a result some of the most underdeveloped parts of the country will for the first time enjoy the benefits of essentials like housing; water and electricity. It is in this context that long-term sustainability needs to be relative to progress, and the more we build or mine, the more mindful we need to be of our environmental and social impact.
The engineering sector is faced with a particularly interesting dichotomy: On the one hand, especially in developing economies, infrastructure development is vital to encourage and facilitate necessary growth. On the other, we are becoming increasingly aware of environmental considerations and social concerns pertaining to, inter alia, resource use and long-term development impact.
It is also estimated that approximately $35-billion will be spent on mining, minerals and oil in Africa by 2015. Clearly, we are entering an era of infrastructure boom wherein the African continent is the “land of opportunity”. Mineral resource investigations and the related need for infrastructure development are driving the re-exploration of our continent and this holds numerous opportunities for development, in terms of both urban upliftment and local economic strengthening.
Within the context of a rapidly growing population and positive GDP outlook in Africa, infrastructure development will pave the way for this renewed exploration, ultimately changing the face of the continent. However, rapid development must be managed, project by project, to ensure Africa is able to maximise the spin-off effects thereof within the context of sustainable development.
Karien Erasmus, Sustainability Manager at multidisciplinary consulting engineering company, GIBB said: “Sustainability and sustainable development should not only remain buzzwords. There are ways and means to practically utilise and apply these concepts at a project level. The pro-active application of sustainability in projects relates to defining a set of sustainability parameters and indicators for projects, which could be managed, verified and reported against. GIBB believes that a Project Sustainability Report should be included as part of the final project deliverable, ultimately strengthening the hand of the client in ensuring sustainability and complying with best practice.”
Erasmus added that project sustainability reports are not cumbersome and lengthy reports but rather focused and streamlined checklists and detailed guidelines, speaking directly to project risks and opportunities in terms of achieving sustainability. Such a report will typically comprise of a sustainability assessment and framework which is then populated throughout the project lifecycle and which could ultimately be utilised as a monitoring and evaluation tool. Importantly, the project sustainability report is an integrated input, in terms of its function within the project context and in terms of multi-discipline inputs contributing to its relevance and validity.
Although this is a long-term process, sustainability, as any project criteria, must be evaluated in terms of progress and target achievement. This will ultimately support good project management philosophy.
Richard Vries, Group CEO at GIBB said: “It’s not just about ‘Green talk’. The effective integration of social, economic and environmental components can only happen through the inclusion of sustainability. As the partner of choice in the engineering sector, we need to understand and acknowledge our role in terms of the social, environmental and economic impacts of projects. Sustainability cannot be captured in a snapshot, it is a long-term view that needs to be managed to secure project and organisational resilience. We, therefore, need to highlight the sustainability risks as well as the immense opportunities to clients by applying innovative and applicable technologies, ensuring responsible planning and engineering design and integrating environmental and community needs effectively into project phases and final deliverables.”
The need for project specific, measurable and defined sustainability inputs are becoming all the more clear in tenders and international best practice guidelines governing work locally and internationally. Practically speaking, consulting companies in engineering are and will be increasingly influenced by the global demand to ensure sustainable development.
Development will have to embrace the entire scope of sustainability, from project inception through to implementation and managing/planning for down-stream effects. Utilising and incorporating sustainability is about identifying opportunities within the natural and man-made constraints of Africa and finding beneficial mitigation measures to address these risks.
“As much as we are faced with difficult challenges in balancing economic, environmental and social goals, these challenges also bring new opportunities. Sustainability recognises both inviolable limits and endless opportunities for creative innovation, opening new doors in established and future markets,” said Dr Urishanie Govender, GIBB Environmental Management and Sustainability General Manager.
The need for project specific, measurable and defined sustainability inputs are becoming increasingly important to demonstrate project resilience. Consulting engineering company GIBB recognises its role to include sustainability criteria into project designs, to deliver projects that embrace the principles of sustainable development.