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What it takes for a consultancy to halve its carbon impact

This month, WSP became the first environmental services consultancy in Australia to commit to halving the carbon footprint of its designs and advice by 2030. Here’s why and how they made the commitment.

As the global water community continues to plan and implement strategies towards meeting net zero targets, plenty of questions have been raised about how water businesses will tackle some of the trickier emissions scopes that need to be addressed to meet net-zero targets.

While transitioning to renewable energy sources is underway, around 20% of global carbon emissions relate to the construction of built environments, with a further 30% relating to the operation of buildings and infrastructure. 

WSP CEO Asia Pacific Guy Templeton said the firm’s decision to make the ambitious commitment was informed by extensive consultation with a wide range of clients, as well as comprehensive discussions with industry specialists.

“As scientists, engineers and consultants we are passionate about working closely with our clients to address the carbon footprint of projects, reduce emissions and limit climate change,” he said. 

“WSP is committed to creating low-carbon, sustainable cities and communities and delivering designs and advice which mitigate the impacts of climate change on our world.” 

Committing to change

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released earlier this month, revealed that failure to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is now "almost inevitable". But it could be temporary if countries and industry seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically this decade.

WSP Property and Buildings Director Rob Clarke said the environmental services firm intends to meet this challenge head on, but it will require new ways forward via collaborative innovations. 

“WSP will play a leading role in addressing climate change. Our 50% target is an absolute reduction and is both industry-leading and ambitious,” he said. 

“By 2030, WSP will halve both the embodied and operational carbon footprint of our design and advice on projects where we have control over design outcomes through our services.

“Our commitment enables the creation of new skills, greater partnerships and knowledge sharing and a range of collaborative innovations within our global network of 55,000 colleagues.”

Further to its target to halving the carbon footprint of its designs and advice by 2030, WSP in Australia has also committed to sourcing 100% renewable electricity by 2030, supporting its operational greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

Globally, WSP has signed the Business Ambition for 1.5°C Campaign, pledging to achieve net-zero emissions across its value chain by 2040. This target is backed by a commitment to, by 2030, reduce absolute scope 1 and scope 2 market-based emissions by 60%, and absolute scope 3 emissions by 30%.

Leading the transition

WSP is already involved in a number of significant projects in Australia that aim to reduce carbon emission of infrastructure and industry, including the Cedar Grove Environment Centre in Queensland and the Lower South Creek treatment upgrade in Sydney. 

Cedar Grove is one of Queensland’s most environmentally sustainable wastewater treatment plants, as well as a centre for research aiming to set new benchmarks for innovation and sustainability, and the Lower South Creek treatment program has adopted new innovative wastewater process technologies.

WSP Australia’s Sustainability Director Bernadette Fitzgerald said this experience, along with the collective experience of the global company and cross-sector expertise, presents the opportunity for the firm to lead the way on emissions-reduction commitments.

“As part of a global engineering firm, WSP in Australia is uniquely placed to tap into global trends and best practice decarbonisation technologies and strategies,” she said. 

“We are already doing this on projects including Australia’s first offshore wind project — Star of the South — and making this commitment will help us to support more of our clients to realise their climate change commitments.”

Furthermore, Fitzgerald said the commitment to halve the carbon footprint of designs and advice by 2030 will play a pivotal role in driving the low-carbon economy. 

“Halving the carbon footprint of designs and advice can help stimulate greater market demand for lower carbon materials and technologies,” she said. 

Similar commitments have been made by the firm in the UK, Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden. 

WSP Australia’s long-term vision for achieving net zero has three areas of focus: helping communities and businesses to cut carbon; providing solutions that protect biodiversity, social wellbeing and green spaces; and ensuring transitions occur equitably.