Green or blue, social infrastructure is the glue

29 Aug 2019

Whether it’s a school or a sporting facility, a hospital or a transport hub, social infrastructure is the glue that binds our communities.

For the first time, Infrastructure Australia, led by my predecessor Romilly Madew, recognises that social infrastructure is as important as roads and rail to the fabric of our nation and the future liveability of our cities.

Infrastructure accounts for around half of Australia’s emissions, and the latest Infrastructure Audit says we risk becoming one of the world’s highest carbon emitters per capita if we continue down our current track.

The Audit also underscores an incredible opportunity. The right investment in “green, blue and recreational infrastructure” can help us create healthy, liveable new communities and enhance existing ones while driving down carbon emissions.

The Green Building Council of Australia has been a passionate champion of sustainable social infrastructure for many years, and it is one of the four pillars of our strategic plan.

We’ve laid out a clear case for green healthcare and schools, but all types of social infrastructure – from libraries and law courts to parks and public housing – present incredible opportunities for sustainable outcomes, and we continue to push governments to embrace best practice benchmarks.

As we approach National Biodiversity Month this September it is timely to celebrate those projects that prioritise biodiversity and ecology and embed green and blue infrastructure in urban environments, whether that’s green walls or water-sensitive urban design. The GBCA backs the 202020 Vision for more green space in our cities, and we cheer on our government members taking bold strides forward – like the City of Melbourne through its Urban Forest Strategy and the NSW Government through its ambition to plant five million trees in Sydney by 2030.

As noted in the Audit, all these initiatives enhance quality of life and manage urban heat islands that will increasingly impact the liveability and resilience of our cities.

But the Audit alludes to an enormous challenge ahead as we look to upgrade ageing and carbon-intensive social infrastructure, including 1,300-plus public and private hospitals, 9,400 schools and 400,000 social housing dwellings.

Next week, the GBCA and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia will launch updated guidelines to ensure we get the most sustainable outcomes from every dollar spent on infrastructure.

There are obvious intersections between our work – ISCA rates railway lines and GBCA railway buildings, for instance – and our new guidelines support better integration as an increasing number of projects pursue dual ratings under the IS and Green Star rating systems.

There’s never been a better time to be thinking about how to get the biggest bang for our buck. Since 2015, more than $123 billion dollars of infrastructure work has commenced, with a pipeline of $200 billion committed.

While much of this money is being spent on roads and rail, the Audit acknowledges that investment in social infrastructure can “generate community buy-in for new development and re-establish trust in government institutions and services”.

That community buy-in and trust is dependent on delivering sustainable long-term benefits –economic, environmental, and, of course, social.