We can't go on doing things in the same manner that we always have and expect the result to be different - with Adrienne Miller

Adrienne Miller is the New Zealand General Manager for Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA). We caught up with her to discuss ISCA’s work and sustainability in our sector. 

Adrienne Miller

Adrienne, tell us about yourself 

I trained as a lawyer and have worked with engineers in and around the edges of construction and infrastructure for over 20 years. I spent some time working in the waste sector with Waste Management, then with Carter Holt in building products, and in construction and infrastructure with Downers. I also worked with public sector water utility Watercare before founding my consulting practice, Cupola in 2018. Through that, I've continued to provide services to the sector. I also do quite a bit of voluntary and governance work. Recently, I was appointed a member of MBIE's Building Advisory Panel, I am one of the founding members of Infrastructure New Zealand's WIN Advisory Board and have been a trustee of Diversity Works for nearly three years (and acted as Interim CE for six months recently also).  

Other voluntary endeavours over the years have included working as part of the #BuildAKL campaign, which aimed to increase the number of Maori and Pasifika in the construction and infrastructure industry, and various speaking, facilitating and mentoring opportunities.  

I've also enjoyed being a challenge author and mentor for GHD's Smart Seeds campaign, which is a great collaborative, capability-building exercise.  

In my new role as GM of ISCAI've managed to bring together my passion for working in a nitty-gritty sector and purpose-driven, outcomes-focused work which achieves good things for New Zealand Inc. 

What role does ISCA play in New Zealand? 

ISCA is a member-based, not-for-profit organisation working in sustainability across the infrastructure sector. We ensure infrastructure delivers social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits; builds awareness and capability; and administers comprehensive and objective rating tools for measuring and verifying impacts. It's all aligned with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals and the New Zealand Treasury's Living Standards framework. 

ISCA originated in Australia and has had a presence in New Zealand for a while. Recently we delivered on our commitment to ''put boots on the ground'' in Aotearoa with my appointment and my colleague Dr Kerry Griffiths, ex AECOM, as Technical Director. 

What does your role entail at ISCA? 

I work across our stakeholder groups and monitor the New Zealand market. I look at the regulatory and policy developments to identify opportunities where we could add value as well as help support our existing members. I also get involved in some advocacy and represent New Zealand Inc's interests within ISCA.  

While our rating tools are objective and constant across all jurisdictions, I do have plans for some uniquely New Zealand aspects—particularly incorporating Te Ao Maori principles and approaches and encompassing uniquely New Zealand policy settings. Watch this space! 

Another of my functions is interfacing with the New Zealand working group. In addition to our employees, we have this fantastic community of IS trained practitioners embedded in local companies that make up our community of practice. They assist us by volunteering in our working groups and provide support to our advocacy efforts. Our rating tools were developed by industry for the industry, and we lean heavily on that collaborative approach for feedback when we periodically fine-tune and tweak our tools, or commission thought-leadership work.  

How do you think we meaningfully address climate change from an infrastructure context? 

We need to think a lot bigger, broader and smarter about the problems that are now confronting our communities and make sure we're harnessing all our talent.  

We need to consider how we integrate infrastructure with nature, rather than seeing it as something that should surmount or dominate Papatuanuku. In this post-COVID world, we need to look at how we use IoT, data points and the information that gets generated and embedded in the infrastructure so that it can help inform the future design process.  

We now have a legislative mandate for the adaptation and mitigation concerning climate change - supported by the recently released National Climate Change Risk Assessment. The assessment requires everyone to pay more attention to the issues of sea-level rise, coastal inundation and temperature increase when they are designing new infrastructure. Poorly thought-out design can exacerbate the adverse effects of some of these things. We can't go on doing things in the same manner that we always have and expect the result to be different. MBIE consultation on changes reducing whole of life embodied carbon in buildings and transforming their operation are a response to some of these risks. 

Where does the cultural and social perspective fit into climate change and infrastructure? 

We need to ensure all users and communities inform the infrastructure design process. That's what infrastructure is - a tool to connect and enable communities.  

We have to consider what the future looks like physically, socially and culturally, and then design for it.  

I think there is quite a lot that we can adopt from Te Ao Māori around how we think about the impacts the asset can have during construction and over its whole life cycle.  

We need to use longer horizons when assessing costs and benefits and adopt an ecosystem approach to how it interreacts with people and place to achieve good outcomes. 

I found it interesting when reading the National Climate Change Risk Assessment, that Iwi consulted on the NCCRA framework disapproved of the domain approach taken because, in Te Ao Māori, everything is regarded and treated as interconnected. I subscribe to a similar view.  

The resilience of an asset and the potential for asset redundancy are also big elephants in the room. The likelihood of a TCFD-type regime had been signalled for a while and that has now become a reality. The reporting landscape for executives and directors and their responsibilities around risk (including those identified in the NCCRA) are now much clearer. If we don't start responding appropriately to those challenges, we will end up building assets that become stranded or devalued because they won't be adaptable in the face of climate and other changes. It's not only about being responsive to Papatūānuku; it's also about being responsive to the way that society changes – COVID being a current classic example. 

How can we change the way we see the life of assets? 

Adaptability and repurposing are newer ideas. It's not a fixed thing. We have a local example in the form of the issues that have arisen in Northland around rail tunnels. Government funding was allocated to rejuvenate the Auckland to Whangarei rail line which required the track to be lowered in 13 tunnels to allow hi-cube shipping containers to be carried on the Northland Line. Going forward that ability for adaptability is something organisations will be looking to build in from the start. The trick is envisaging a likely future and building for that. A new sort of build back better. 

People often think of sustainability as only about the environment. Do you agree?  


Sustainability is about so much more than just the environment. It's about viability: designing things in a future-proofed way so they can continue to be enjoyed by the community without doing any harm to the environment. Ideally, even doing some good. 

The land, people, history, culture and community all need to be considered and respected when delivering projects. The whole point of infrastructure is to serve people in communities, and they need to take centre stage. 

What stops meaningful action on sustainability?  

There are misconceptions around time and cost. There is plenty of talk around how incorporating sustainability options could place a hand brake on some projects, slow them down or make them more expensive. The reality, however, is that there are frameworks already in place on the shelf that can be used today to assess sustainability as design and construction proceeds. And in many cases, rather than reducing value, there is the potential to extract greater value. The return on the investment work we have done suggests a compelling ROI ranging from $1.6 - $2.4 for every dollar invested. In our case, our tools enable us to measure and verify the output and also benchmark it against other similar projects and assets. There is also a bit of tension around who pays for these systems and processes. I think it's essential that we don't go down the same track as we did with health and safety at the beginning. The health and safety journey saw us move from a compliance approach to a culturally embedded approach (as needs to be the case with a sustainability ethos). In the early days, contractors were expected to deliver a whole lot of additional reporting systems to clients. This was with little consideration to what stage of the journey everyone in the industry was at. I think it's essential that the costs that come from achieving better outcomes from a sustainability perspective, including cultural, social and economic, are transparently recouped by deliverers. Those deliverers are often not the beneficiary of the broader benefits that accrue although interestingly many of the circular, waste, water and energy initiatives do drive savings. Contractors also will be understandably a bit reticent because of the previous lowest price behaviour in the past by those who had said they wanted broader outcomes. To get traction, this group will need to be reassured they won't bear all the cost of benefits that largely accrue to others.

The key takeouts are that it's important either way that you don't just look at the cost but also the return on that investment. Finally, we also need to build sustainability bench strength in terms of capability - it'll be an essential skillset moving forward. 

How vital is the procurement process in delivering sustainable infrastructure? 


It's often less about what and more about how a project is delivered or an asset is operated. You need to know what that is upfront. So starting early and integrating aspirations into the systems and processes sets you up best for success.  

There has been a lot of work done by the Construction Sector Accord around contract form and risk allocation. MBIE and Infracom have also produced a new playbook that gives useful guidance for smaller procurers without PMO capability. That's a great piece of work overall, BUT to my mind, it doesn't incorporate enough on sustainability. For example, on the playbook, the suggestion is that you don't require verification around outcomes until projects run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. On the contrary, I believe you can get payback on smaller projects just as much as you can on large projects, and if you're investing assuming those outcomes, you do need to know objectively they've been achieved. I hear too that MBIE and the Construction Sector Accord may be looking at adding a sustainability stream that will help address these sorts of issues. Programs could be an excellent way to aggregate work, ensure pipeline certainty, improve capability and deliver sustainable outcomes.  

Finally, I think as part of the procurement, we need to enable the right contract models. It's ideally those that are more collaborative, but we need to get better certainty beforehand on how the Commerce Commission views alliances and JVs in light of the cartel laws - which don't incidentally apply to what the public might regard as cartel - but that's a whole other subject! 

Touching on your previous role at DiversityWorks - how do we get more women, Māori and Pasifika into the sector? 

We have to showcase people who are recognisable to all those demographics. The adage that you can't be what you can't see is so true.  

There's a wealth of unrealised and recognised talent hiding in these groups. It looks and behaves slightly differently, but is undoubtedly talent. These less prevalent groups need to be shown there's a career path that lets them progress AND allows them to do the things they value.  

With Māori and Pasifika for example, there is a tremendous contribution made and an expectation and responsibility to family and church. It's a cultural imperative and at the heart of what it means to be part of that community. You can't take that away. If it's not evident how these obligations can be reconciled with the roles and responsibilities within the sector, they are going to be less interested in seeking employment in it. It's a bit like the conversation around 'bringing your whole self to work". I think businesses need to pay greater attention to 'walking in the shoes' of all these groups and not making assumptions about aspirations or needs or worrying so much about 'fit'. How might your policies apply differently to different people? People who think and behave differently are an asset, and it becomes a bit of self-fulfilling thing if you don't get this right. A diverse workforce gives you a head start both in understanding the needs of current and future staff, and in designing products and services (and the inverse is also true). Success builds on itself, but you do need to listen to all these different voices and properly embed them in decision making (not just consult with them) to achieve that success.   

Connect with Adrienne Miller on LinkedIn