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AECOM: The State – and Future – of Sustainable Infrastructure

Rendering of Spire London | Image Credit: HOK/Design Boom

Multinational engineering and infrastructure firm AECOM is set to build the tallest residential development in Western Europe. Reaching 67 stories, the Spire London tower will be built in West India Quay near Canary Wharf. When completed, it will rise to 771 feet and house 861 apartments and penthouses.

AECOM’s work also includes projects in New York City such as the 2.8 million-square-foot 3 World Trade Center and the 1.6 million-square-foot One Vanderbilt, and Citi Field in Flushing, Queens; as well as the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The company includes architects, engineers, designers, planners, scientists and construction services professionals designing and building solar-powered sports stadiums, major greenfield ports, modern rail systems and Olympic venues that are convertible to school buildings.

AECOM is also currently involved in two major projects with airports:

  • City of Phoenix Aviation Department, Phoenix Sky Harbor Strategic Energy Management Plan: a Strategic Energy Management Plan to help the airport improve the energy efficiency of existing facilities 20 percent by 2020 and reduce the airport’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 30 percent by 2030. AECOM says prior to the engagement there was no feasibility assessment, roadmap or implementation plan for the airport to achieve these targets. AECOM evaluated the energy-conservation measures (ECMs), a mix of retro-commissioning, operational enhancements, equipment improvements and lighting upgrades, and the associated energy and GHG impacts and developed strategies and scenarios for achieving the targets. AECOM was able to understand the operational impact of absolute vs intensity-based energy and GHG metrics and reduction targets, which are important considerations given the projected growth of airport activity, and determine the required mix of short-, medium- and long-term ECMs that would be needed for the airport to achieve the targets.
  • San Diego International Airport, Sustainability Management Plan (SMP): AECOM will review the Authority’s existing sustainability plans and conduct a baseline assessment in five sustainability program elements - air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate resilience, waste management and recycling, clean transportation, and biodiversity – then develop performance targets, implementation strategies, and a monitoring framework. The final deliverables will be strategic action plans for each sustainability element and an overall Sustainability Management Plan that will inform ongoing operations and communicate the airport’s sustainability approach to the public. Following this engagement, the Authority will have sustainability action/implementation plans for 5 of the 8 primary sustainability focus areas - Air Quality/GHG (including support for ongoing Airport Carbon Accreditation), Clean Transportation (including targets for reducing emissions from all ground transportation sources), Climate Resilience (including adaptation measures for flood resilience, extreme heat and drought preparedness), Zero Waste (including analysis of waste streams and recycling infrastructure with targets for improving waste diversion and pursuing zero waste), and Biodiversity (including strategies to ensure airport operations are compatible with local wildlife). Once a baseline is fully established, AECOM will develop reduction targets with the airport and develop an implementation plan and management/monitoring tools to achieve the reduction targets.

Sustainable Brands recently spoke with Craig Riley, Practice group leader for AECOM’s Corporate Advisory & Sustainability Services, to learn more about sustainability within the field.

What can you tell us about the state of sustainability in the infrastructure industry?

Craig Riley: Making sustainability practices a core business driver has been a corporate and communal imperative for several years now. Increasingly, organizations are finding that aligning core business strategies with the principles of sustainability can differentiate them in the marketplace. Companies that integrate sustainable solutions have gone beyond traditional efficiency projects, like energy cost savings, and found ways to integrate sustainability efforts into core aspects of their organization, like connecting corporate/enterprise-level strategy with data management and performance at the facility or department level, re-invigorating an existing sustainability program by aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals, identifying cleaner, ‘greener’ input materials and finding innovative uses of waste, to name a few. The opportunities for companies in sustainability are broad – offering results that range from cost savings and operational excellence to innovation and re-invention of products and services.

Isn't it equally important to fix crumbling infrastructure as to invest in new building?

Riley: From a sustainability perspective – that is embodied carbon or energy, for example – I believe it is actually more important to fix crumbling infrastructure than to invest in new buildings. However, in many cases new buildings/infrastructure are required for safety, efficiency or many other reasons. So, every case needs to be looked at individually. The decision of whether new construction is needed or whether use of existing infrastructure is sufficient should be made from a life cycle perspective.

What are the best ways to incentivize CEOs (beyond money) to make sustainability a core value?

Riley: The most successful sustainability programs and cultures have commitment and involvement, or "tone” from the top and participation through every level of the organization. Having this emphasis on sustainability – both in a discrete manner through programs and policies and indirectly through awareness around sustainability topics - will help push the focus on sustainability past monetary incentives. But it starts with a deliberate effort to integrate and instill sustainability as a value.

CEOs are driven by more than just financial considerations, or at the least consider a broader definition of financial concerns beyond the immediate short term. As such, the more sustainability is thought of, and managed, in terms of addressing risk, supporting growth of the business, and providing return on capital, the easier it will be to develop formal and informal incentives around the advancement of sustainability for the organization. CEOs are more likely to support a sustainability strategy that is aligned to multiple departments (i.e., HR, operations, procurement, etc) and geographies (where applicable), and along multiple dimensions beyond financial.

What will sustainability look like in five-ten years?

Riley: In 5-10 years, I see sustainability as a much deeper business management topic - where organizations will be managing 'sustainability' at the material topic level. Investors and other financial stakeholders will have more robust information and expect that companies are managing and reporting on issues beyond just financial. This will force some companies to step out of comfortable norms.

We’ll also see a growth of interest in other topics that stakeholders will expect companies to act on – such as water, chemicals, supply chain, diversity, and governance. This may drive the creation of new disclosure frameworks beyond the typical frameworks today (GRI, CDP, etc).

In a tepid political climate on sustainability and in the face of increasing political crises, I believe consumers will expect companies to play a much more prominent role in addressing sustainability and societal concerns.


Sheila Shayon, President of Third Eye Media, is a senior media executive with twenty five plus years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. 

[Read more about Sheila Shayon]