The research captured in this thesis has led to the development of a range of models, tools and processes for government and industry that provide a forwardlooking approach to the measurement of impact on infrastructure projects. This approach enables measurement of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) at the project level to ensure investments are made equitably across economic, environment and social objectives. Application of the results from this research are already being actively used by the Environment Agency to manage impact assessment across its £5.2Bn portfolio of projects and by the Thames Tideway Project (£4.9Bn).
Background. Achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030 is of paramount importance and the construction industry has a major role in achieving a measurable impact against the SDG targets. However, linking of ‘local’ infrastructure project success to ‘global’ SDG targets is problematic because the targets were designed at the national level and not at the project or programme level (Mansell, et al., 2020a). Furthermore, while the so called ‘triple bottom line’ (i.e. economy, environment and society) approach to understanding sustainability remains important, there is a need to understand how this can be related to the full project lifecycle as well as a need for improved project governance. This is consistent with the findings of a key UN investigation’s Fourth Report (Global Task Force, 2020) which calls for localization of SDGs as well as the need for cooperative governance to establish shared priorities.
Research description. The research was based on two main stages. The first stage, informed by a systematic literature review, comprised a mixed method that involved a survey of 325 engineers to derive quantitative data (Mansell et al., 2020b) along with interviews with 40 CEOs and corporate Heads of Sustainability to capture qualitative data (Mansell et al., 2020c). The second stage involved the development of a prototype that was tested through two further exploratory investigations at two levels: (1) Test 1: is there a Golden Thread from global SDGs, through the organisational level, down to project level SDG impact measurement?; (2) Test 2: does the prototype model, the Impact Value Chain, have practical coherence when PhD: Measuring Infrastructure Projects’ SDG Impact (MISI) v assessed in a brief case study of a Water Utility Company (Anglian Water) (Mansell et al., 2020d). Subsequently, and not part of this thesis, the research led to a collaborative partnership to test the prototype model and its approach across the Environment Agency’s full portfolio of projects and also, the megaproject of the Thames Tideway Tunnel.
Findings. The survey of 325 engineers (Mansell et al., 2020b) indicated four primary shortfalls for measuring SDGs on infrastructure projects, namely leadership, tools and methods, engineers’ business skills in measuring SDG impact, and how project success is too narrowly defined as outputs (such as time, cost and scope) and not outcomes (longer-term local impacts and stakeholder value). Moreover, the interviews with 40 senior executives (Mansell et al., 2020c) from the UK identified that SDG measurement practices are currently ‘more talk less walk’ and indicated a number of contextual and mechanistic opportunities to increase the outcome success.
Therefore, using empirical evidence the researcher identified a ‘golden thread’ between best practice sustainability-reporting frameworks at the ‘local’ project level and those at the organisational and supra-national-levels (Mansell et al., 2020a). In doing so, the research identified that there is sufficient linkage to embed SDG impact targets into the design stage of an infrastructure project. Furthermore, the innovative process model, called the ‘Infrastructure SDG Impact-Value Chain’ (IVC) to link project delivery with strategic SDG impacts, builds on the concept of creating shared value and creates a practical mechanism to turn theory into meaningful impact in project selection and delivery. The utility of the IVC process model was initially investigated as part of the case study investigation of Anglian Water (Mansell et al., 2020d) and its application has been further demonstrated in the MISI Project (not included in this thesis).
Research Impact. The research produced twelve peer-reviewed papers including being published in seven internationally recognised academic journals, such as: Sustainability (2 articles), Administrative Sciences, and the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers–Engineering Sustainability. The MISI research outputs have been taken forward by the government and industry partners, specifically the Environment Agency and Thames Tideway Project, working together to establish this new approach for measuring sustainability on infrastructure projects.
This research was carried out in collaboration with a number of partners including the Institution of Civil Engineers, University College London, the Buildings Research Establishment, the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the Environment Agency, Thames Tideway Tunnel Ltd and the UN Global Compact.