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How to execute a sustainability - driven project?

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Building Sustainability-First Infrastructure

The podcast for urban designers and city planners where we discuss city water management and sustainable urban development. In this episode we talk with Martin Lundholm - Project Engineer focused on sustainability and innovation at Skanska. For the last four years, Martin has worked with the Skellefteå Municipality in northern Sweden which has the clear and ambitious goal of becoming the most sustainable city in Europe. A tall order, which our guest has contributed to, working on two award winning sites for Skellefteå.
In this episode we discuss an important topic: how to actually implement (build) a project with a strong sustainability focus.

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Can you tell us more about the specific project you were working on at the city of Skellefteå?

- Skellefteå is a smaller city close to the Arctic Circle in the north of Sweden. It is famous for the gigafactory Northvolt One, currently one of the largest battery producers. The resulting growth of the city has led to an exciting opportunity to grow in a sustainable way. The project I’ve been involved in for the last two years, Skellefteå Site East, was named the most sustainable infrastructure project in 2021, and now we are finishing another, similar project with the Skellefteå municipality.
In terms of sustainability, the projects we at SKANSKA have been involved in are particularly unique because of the turn-key contract used. Using ‘partnering ECI’ which is based on a quality metrics system that Sweden and Skanska have seldom used before.

Could you elaborate on ECI?

- ECI means Early Contractor Involvement. This is unique because usually a project will be tendered by the state or municipality and the contract is handed over to the best bid. But in this case, we at SKANSKA were in continual collaboration with the municipality from the first day of the project.
They were very keen to use quality metrics to evaluate our performance in three key areas: in terms of organisation and ability, contribution to Skellefteå sustainable development, and as a partner. That’s what the municipality were interested in and the reason we were chosen.
I think this collaborative approach to designing the project will be key in achieving a sustainable future. Neither us, as a construction company, nor the municipality holds all of the solutions, so we need to work in synchrony, and these kind of contracts could be key in bringing all these groups together.

Could you tell us more about the quality metrics, such as the energy monitoring?

- In our first project we won the prize for the most sustainable energy project in 2021. We felt happy with this, but then toward the end of the project we took a camera to study the leakage of heat or electricity from our site offices, and a colleague plotted it on the same graph as the energy saved from the electric rock crushing, which had resulted in a 40-60 tonnes reduction in co2 emissions. When we plotted these on the same graph it made our eyes pop out, there was so much loss at the office site. We saw that the energy loss from the office was the same as that from a huge rock crushing machine. It made us realise there was so much more that we could do in the second project.
When we built the second-site office, using what we had learned, we were able to reduce this loss by 45%, almost half.

How were the projects processes documented, so that people could see that this wasn’t just greenwashing?

- In the second project we used a BREEAM infrastructure verification scheme, which is one of the structures for the verification process and there is a lot of documentation for that. We used this to evaluate what we learned and what can we bring to future projects, to help us with all future goals with the climate. The key factor is the structural sustainability, that we set the rules together with the client, the sustainability rules and the focus, and these rules become an ‘untouchable’ agreement from the beginning.

Looking at the structural sustainability framework you have at SKANSKA, all the areas were clearly agreed upon. Is this a common approach?

- Not at all. We were surprised to see that this was an unusual way to do this. It was commented by the verifier that our sustainability action plan was one of the best they have seen in ten years.
It was key that we organised an initial workshop with the client to establish the sustainability framework. Together we looked at the three focus areas of biodiversity, climate, and social sustainability. These areas were then followed up with many defined actions, and responsibility for their completion was divided between the team.
This is a simple way to focus on the structural sustainability, to focus on the method, not on the solution. The solutions may differ, but the actions and the structure will help keep our focus.

This approach is quite flexible. The actions can be completed, changed, added to, or dropped. What were some reasons that actions were dropped?

- Some actions were dropped for economic reasons, we might see that the CO2 saving doesn’t justify the investment of money that could be better used in another way, like tree plantings, biodiversity wall etc instead of solar panels. Sometimes, the actions we wanted to carry out in the first project weren’t possible for reasons of space, but this could then be done in the second project. These actions could be kept in the system until they are relevant.

So, setting the actions is important, even if you don’t achieve them all?

- Yes, I call it the Mondo Method after the pole-vaulter, Mondo Duplantis. He sets the bar high and sometimes fails to clear it. But now he is the world record holder, and we need to do the same, put the bar high and we may reach it. We might fail, but we mustn’t be afraid to jump.

After these two projects, what is next?`

- These have been two very high profile projects. We have had the eyes of the world upon us and we have been very successful, but now the objective must be to try and take the key factors which made the projects successful and help other sustainability projects succeed.
We also want to help set the new standard for sustainability. These projects reached up to 75% climate saving, so this shows what is possible now and we should aim to do similar with other projects in the future.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

- Only that the key fundamental is the collaboration. The construction companies like SKANSKA and the clients like the Skellefteå municipality don’t know everything, but we can succeed by working together, in a structured way, using the expertise we have between us, and using this type of turnkey contract. Just like working out at a gym, you have to keep up the hard work, but don’t try and do too much. Keep it simple, realistic, and it is possible.

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