The Australian Government initially emphasised the role of infrastructure as a driver of recovery to support employment growth and minimise the economic impact of COVID-19 and the bushfires in 2019.
Post this initial recovery initiative during Victoria’s emergency state, the Victoria Infrastructure Strategy 2021-2051 highlighted the central role of infrastructure in our long-term economic outlook.
This strategy included 94 recommendations for projects, policies, and reforms, spanning many types of infrastructure including transport, housing, energy, telecommunications, water and waste. The recommendations are expected to total $100 billion in investment over 30 years.
This amount of investment into state infrastructure is unprecedented and unheard of. But, there is an evident need for this focus in Victoria. The population is estimated to grow from 4.5 million to 8 million, with Victoria’s total population set to top 10 million by 2051.
Further, Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017 establishes a long-term target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Key to achieving this goal is sustainable transport, particularly as urban areas are increasingly designed to encourage active modes of transport and reduce car dependency.
Therefore, Melbourne’s transport network will need to cater for around 10 million more trips a day — an increase of more than 80%.
How can sustainability and infrastructure work together?
Sustainable infrastructure systems are those that are planned, designed, constructed, operated, and decommissioned in a manner that ensures economic and financial, social, environmental (including climate resilience) and institutional sustainability over the entire infrastructure life cycle. This should be the goal for all infrastructure projects. And we are moving towards it.
But, we need to move further away from the old-school mentality of sustainability as a tick-box exercise (think: having a recycling bin in the office, hiring a sustainability officer). Investment in sustainability needs to be a premise for projects, not an attribute. It needs to be learnt and understood.
If sustainability goals and objectives are a secondary thought, projects miss a huge opportunity to be adopted and utilised by the community – missing their opportunity to leave a real legacy.
It’s essential to discover where your project can have positive public impact from the get-go. If that’s using materials efficiently (or sustainable materials), creating infrastructure with innovative technology (e.g. renewable energy), assessing climate and biodiverse risks or exploring opportunities for shared value with stakeholders.
By applying impact, sustainability and behaviour change perspectives, projects can be positioned to reap the social and environmental benefits beyond the build’s objectives, in turn creating a more successful, sustainable and impactful project.
How do ‘why’-centric communications benefit communities?
Infrastructure projects are complex. The process of consultation, project development and the mammoth task of construction is huge. Education and engagement with the community where this infrastructure will be living is imperative.
Knowledge is power. But, over-communication is dilution.
‘Why’-centric communication is the key – people want to know how they are being disrupted and what the benefit is for them is. We all live in our bubbles and how change might impact us is front of mind.
Because of the sheer scale of the project lifecycle and impact, project communications and engagement tend to filter information through the lens of construction and engineering terminology. Including detailed overviews of construction methodology rather than project benefit-led information or clear disruption updates.
While some people find the construction methodology fascinating, most people don’t.
Alternatively, future-state storytelling has the potential to place infrastructure projects in people’s lives for the better; enabling people to contextualise understand the short-term impacts for the long-term gain.
Infrastructure shapes how we navigate the world; ensuring the successful adoption of the infrastructure requires consideration of the role of infrastructure in delivering positive social impact paired with an effective behaviour change approach.
Communications are key to demonstrating the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for the individual, community and the state – enabling infrastructure projects to move people, and shape the world for good.
We’ve done work with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) by working with Culturally and Linguistically diverse (CALD) communities to inform DELWP’s future engagement practices for waterways use and management in Melbourne.