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Procurement going sustainable: thanks, South Australia for taking the lead

Last week the South Australian government launched its new Sustainable Procurement Policy to support the government’s infrastructure and transport programs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The policy recognises the power of government procurement to support suppliers who offer low carbon products to help create a market for these products and “foster the growth of climate-smart businesses in South Australia”.

This policy will require all contractors bidding for work over a $50 million threshold to have an organisational emissions reduction target that addresses their own “fuel and electricity use as well as in their supply chains”.

The Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA) has engaged various state government agencies responsible for procurement to adopt ambitious targets for themselves and their contractors bidding for government building and infrastructure projects.

Embodied carbon target is now a minimum for tenders

In particular this will encourage contractors to have, at a minimum, an embodied carbon target as a prerequisite to tender for government work. And that would ensure that carbon is considered a priority alongside cost, time, and quality when government agencies are assessing who should be awarded the final contracts.

A few weeks ago, we co-hosted a MECLA/ASBN event at the Core Innovation Hub, Spacelab Building, in Adelaide. We had representatives, about 75 people all up, from across the Adelaide’s building and construction industry.

The lunchtime event, facilitated by Ken Long, attracted an audience keen to network and hear about leadership in embodied carbon, as well as about the MECLA network. Speakers included MECLA member, Department of Infrastructure and Transport representative, Jen Slocombe, who stepped us through the government’s policies and foreshadowed the possibility of the sustainable procurement requirement.

Other speakers included Jodie Bricout, circular economy Australian lead at AURECON, Cathy Chesson Australian climate change practice leader at Mott MacDonald, as well as two fantastic innovative materials manufacturers, Xframe, which working in the circular economy construction technology field and Hallett Group, which is developing a “green cement” processing plant at Port Augusta, 310 km north of Adelaide.

Case studies including from R2P Alliance, shared insights on how organisations are thinking about reducing embodied carbon, responding to the need for greater circularity as well as the challenges.

The circular economy is a systems approach to remove waste and pollution, retain value in assets and materials, and regenerate natural systems by design,” one of the participants said.

If we are to shift towards a regenerative economy a systems and circular approach by design will be vital.

In addition to our MECLA event, we also took the opportunity while in Adelaide to pursue meetings with government agencies and industry engaged in the steel manufacturing and green hydrogen sectors.

We were heartened to hear about the ambitious government agenda to drive green iron and steel decarbonisation. The SA government is perfectly placed to support global steel decarbonisation and green iron/steel manufacturing.

Like so many ambitions in this field the challenge of developing a green hydrogen economy through large scale renewables is complicated, and in particular magnetite iron ore body is located on often also located on First Nations lands.

The government representatives made it clear they want to prioritise ensuring the development of these industries tackle important social licence issues in SA. Given how important traceability and verification on all aspects of the supply chain will be, any claims associated with being green are going to need independent verification.

We know that to develop an ambitious renewables industry we need to get right the management of biodiversity impacts, as well as First Nations and community benefit-sharing, alongside decarbonisation and low carbon materials use.

The government shared insights into its proposed Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act, which was out for comment until the end of June. In our opinion, this draft act sets a best practice benchmark. It includes principles that need to be considered early and throughout the regulatory framework such as new, fit for purpose licensing arrangements enabling regulation of the whole project life cycle and First Nations people’s rights and interests.

It also includes a framework to ensure developments are delivered with net environmental benefit, requirements to ensure land is rehabilitated and returned to pre-existing conditions and multiple land use provisions to deliver fair outcomes for landowners, communities, and other pre-existing land rights holders.

Finally, we met with Ian Overton, the chief executive officer of Green Industries SA, and were heartened to hear that the state government is looking to make South Australia “smart, sustainable, equitable”. It is also pursuing interest in a nature positive cooperative research center.

South Australia is definitely punching above its weight when it comes to achieving its ambitious clean energy, clean industries pathways and we look forward to watching its unfolding of a nature positive program of action as well – something we can all learn from.

Monica Richter

Monica Richter

MECLA Project Director