A far-reaching suite of government reforms offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for New Zealand to embed environmental skills and outcomes into improving our national wellbeing.

Faced with housing, infrastructure and skills deficits, public outrage at poor urban and rural water quality and widespread anxiety about climate change, the government has undertaken a suite of environmental, infrastructure and training reforms.

These include the Construction Sector Accord, the Reform of Vocational Education, the infrastructure spend and a wide-ranging environmental programme; net zero carbon, better water quality, reduced waste, higher biodiversity and more.

Now the government needs to formally join the dots between these key initiatives. It needs them to identify and deliver an integrated suite of social, cultural, environmental and economic outcomes that are vitally important to wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

What’s more, although it looks like a big scary job, there’s a simple solution sitting out there to help us do it!

You want carbon savings with that?

The Construction Sector Accord and the Reform of Vocational Education can together help to address the infrastructure skills deficit to meet the demands of the government’s significant investment in infrastructure. This is all very good.

What’s missing is the links from these three major initiatives to the government’s simultaneous environmental initiatives and reforms.

Why is this so important? Because infrastructure and housing (horizontal and vertical construction) contribute:

  • nearly 10% of New Zealand’s GDP1
  • around 40% of our carbon emissions2
  • up to 60% of our solid waste3.

How we build also has the potential to contribute to significant gains in human and environmental health – think warm dry, energy-efficient homes and offices; urban forests as biodiversity havens, construction skills that avoid the environmental harms of past development – soil erosion and sediment runoff, climate change, flooding and water pollution.

The Construction Sector Accord and the Reform of Vocational Education have the potential to deliver infrastructure and environmental skills that tackle the biggest environmental impacts of our time.

It’s called joined-up government – but how do you do it, exactly?

Integrated monitoring framework already in place!

We all know that environmental issues can no longer be considered in isolation from other concerns, but we need a framework that helps us do that effectively.

We’re fortunate in that the government has set up outcomes and targets across the four national wellbeings – social, cultural, environmental and economic – in its wellbeing budget and indicator dashboard and the eight key shifts in its Economic Plan – which include:

  • people are skilled, adaptable and have access to lifelong learning
  • sustainable and affordable energy systems
  • land and resource use delivers greater value and improves environmental outcomes.

The outcomes and indicators are all there! Now we need to embed environmental outcomes into the construction, infrastructure and training reforms.

Building a sustainable future: it needs an environmental training strategy

What we need now is a strategic environmental training and development plan for the construction sector that delivers on the government’s stated outcomes. Well – as a strategic environmental trainer, I would say that, wouldn’t I!

But what government wouldn’t want to build workforce skills that deliver such massive environmental benefits as 40% and 60% reductions in carbon emissions and solid waste volumes?

Moreover, there is a massive public mandate5 for better environmental management in New Zealand and a massive infrastructure spend; $5 billion by Watercare Services alone and $50 billion on Auckland infrastructure in the next few years, alongside the $12 billion government Infrastructure Fund.

This opens up enormous potential for strategic alignment, delivery and measurement of multiple economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes if we embed environmental skills into the Construction Sector Accord and the Reform of Vocational Education as we deliver 21st Century housing and infrastructure. And professional training will be vital as well – even seasoned environmental professionals are crying out for training in this fast-moving world.

What could it look like?

In the short term, the Reform of Vocational Education must ensure that all Workforce Development Councils and Centres of Vocational Excellence specifically address environmental issues associated with their sector, including carbon accounting.

The Construction Sector Accord and Construction Sector Transformation Plan are a brilliant place to start.

But even better, in the long term, New Zealand could contribute to a highly skilled value-add wellbeing economy by setting up a world-leading centre for professional and vocational education and training in environmental issues.

Doing this would show the world how to create a genuine wellbeing economy – one that sets us up to become a carbon-neutral, circular, skilled and equitable economy.

What’s not to like?

What now?

It’s all about Learning for Life on Earth. That’s life-long (and life-wide) learning for all of us.

And it’s learning that will grow our ability to live within our planet’s safe operating space.

Check out my Planetary training model. It shows how the government can set up an integrated training strategy that delivers planned outcomes for its targets across the four wellbeings.

This is what I love doing – while growing the capability of others to do the same.



References and more information

  1. http://archive.stats.govt.nz/datavisualisation/gdp.html#50 [accessed 24 November 2019]
  2. Graham Lawton (2019) No Planet B: a case of cautious climate optimism. New Scientist No3255, 9 November 2019, page 22. See also Adam Vaughan (2019) Zero carbon’s hard problem: carbon emissions from concrete and steel production are a huge problem – but a huge opportunity to score a crucial climate victory. New Scientist 3256, 16 November 2019, pages 38-41 (see also the Editorial on page 5, ‘The hard stuff – tackling emissions from heavy industry is key to fixing climate change’).
  3. See the research at https://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/science/living/cities,-settlements-and-communities/water-sensitive-urban-design
  4. Carbon emissions (or greenhouse gas emissions) can be a good proxy for resource efficiency. Evidence suggests that reducing carbon emissions in infrastructure delivery also reduces costs, promotes collaboration across the supply chain and unlocks innovation. Leading infrastructure owners in different parts of the world are realising that reducing carbon is not just about building new assets in a more intelligent way, it’s also about demanding better performance from their existing asset base. The urgency in tackling Climate Change has now moved on and more Governments (regional and national) have declared climate emergencies and have set ambitious net zero carbon targets. The carbon and cost reduction relationship in economic infrastructure was first evidenced in the UK Infrastructure Carbon Review see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/infrastructure-carbon-review (ICR – published by the UK Government in 2013) It was a milestone report providing evidence that reducing carbon emissions in infrastructure delivery also reduces costs and drives innovation. The report also stated that the UK economy would benefit by £1.5bn if everyone involved in the infrastructure industry could achieve the same levels of carbon efficiency as the industry leaders. During the authoring of the ICR senior leaders from over 200 organisations were interviewed covering the entire infrastructure value chain: Government, Asset Owners/Managers, Investors, Designers, Contractors, Product/Material suppliers, Users. Since the publication of the Infrastructure Carbon Review, the different players in the UK infrastructure value chain such as asset owners (Energy, Water, Transport, Waste, Communications), designers, constructors and product/material suppliers have been promoting low carbon solutions in infrastructure projects and programmes of work and have created a powerful network to promote the sharing of good practice. This ICR work led to the development of PAS2080, http://greenbuildingencyclopaedia.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Guidance-Document-for-PAS2080_vFinal.pdf a standard that provides a common framework for all infrastructure asset owners and their supply chains, on managing whole life carbon emissions. There is now an expanding network across the UK and the globe of infrastructure providers using the guidance and principals from both PAS2080 and the ICR to reduce whole of life carbon and realise cost saving benefits for their communities.
    I am indebted to Maria Manidaki for the carbon information in her presentation to a Water New Zealand Auckland Regional Meeting on 20 November 2019. Maria is the Water infrastructure sustainability leader and an infrastructure investment Planning advisor with Mott MacDonald in the UK. She is a Chartered Engineer with 15 years of post-graduate experience in investment planning, design, and project management in the water industry with specialisation in carbon management, including energy efficiency and small scale renewable energy technologies. Maria is a leading technical advisor on infrastructure carbon management to many large Water Utilities and other asset owners around the globe. She was project leader for the UK government Infrastructure Carbon Review and co-author of PAS2080
  1. https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/109701626/water-pollution-the-number-one-concern-for-new-zealanders-in-new-poll