Close-up of diagram from Arup's SPeAR tool.

+ Arup's SPeAR tool creates new opportunities in sustainability

Many development project teams are trying to grapple with the meaning and value of sustainability. At the beginning of projects, clients often ask what they need to do in terms of sustainability and what it adds. On some projects, no questions are asked at all; they just follow a previously well trodden path of benchmarking the development against an environmental or sustainability rating tool and getting the necessary badge. This means that the sustainability focus is often too narrow (energy, water and waste). Many opportunities for innovation are missed and potential risks remain unidentified.

To promote the best outcomes for a robust building or infrastructure project, there needs to be more of a focus on the materiality (relevance) of key sustainability issues at the start of projects and throughout their lives, more than just following a checklist approach. An early debate within the project team and – where possible – with key stakeholders will mean the project has the opportunity to tackle the important sustainability issues and stakeholder concerns, thus reducing risks to the project and realising key opportunities. This also has the added benefit of helping the project through the relevant planning processes.

This doesn’t mean the project team needs to deal with all sustainability issues at once. However, sustainability targets and actions should be prioritised during the life of the project. This broader approach to sustainability also maximises the opportunity to identify virtuous cycles, delivering multiple benefits to the client and stakeholders.

Arup’s revised project appraisal tool, SPeAR®, aims to help project teams address these issues. The SPeAR® process ensures material sustainability indicators are agreed at the start of a project and an appraisal is undertaken against these. As designs develop, the project can be tracked against the selected indicators – i.e. what is improving or getting worse.  Materiality can also continually be assessed. It ensures that project teams go beyond just completing a checklist or chasing points and instead consider a broad range of issues such as risk, resilience, climate change, equality and employment and skills.

It is essential that at milestones throughout the project journey there is debate about what is relevant. Assumptions about materiality should be periodically reviewed as designs develop and more information is known about the local environment and the stakeholders know more about the project. The approach of “one size fits all” to sustainability appraisals or rating a project doesn’t fit in this increasingly complex and changing world. Assessing materiality opens up new opportunities to address sustainability along the project path and beyond, creating real value for clients and communities.