Water is the most critical molecule in the universe and it supports all human, plant and animal life. If you had to determine its value, where would you even begin?
The perceived value of water is different to a family in metropolitan Australia than a farmer in a regional area or a community living beside an industrial area as it would be to an astronaut who just landed on Mars. Australian engineer Natalie Muir recently contributed to a report on the value of water for the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) as part of its State of the World series.
This latest update is the second in the State of the World series from FIDIC, which was first launched five years ago. The first report from this second series outlined the scale required to meet general infrastructure needs, chart a recovery from COVID-19 and meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), estimated to be a $7 trillion investment. The rest of the reports, which are due to be released throughout the year, align with the SDGs, with Establishing the Value of Water released in April.
“Water is a key challenge facing our industry at the moment. Water is intrinsic to achieving the SDGs, and even impacts things that you might not think of initially, like gender equity,” said Natalie Muir, General Manager Water & Environment, Cardno.
“For example, without water and functioning toilets, we see that girls don’t go to school. As engineers, we need to go beyond just making our infrastructure more sustainable, we need to go back further in the process and think about designing sustainable solutions much, much earlier in the value chain.”
Muir’s first connection with FIDIC was through winning a young professional scholarship program at Cardno. The scholarship is named after Richard (Dick) Kell AM, one of Cardno’s most respected engineers. He was also a Board Member and President of FIDIC from 2003 to 2005, the second Australian in 110 years to fill the role.
After getting to know Muir through the scholarship program, Kell suggested that she would be well suited to being a member of the FIDIC Sustainable Development Committee when the Expressions of Interest were released.
Once she had progressed through the necessary endorsement steps with Consult Australia, Muir was put forward and ultimately accepted for one of the positions, and was nominated as Vice Chair of the committee. She is the only Australian on the team that contributed to the report.
“It’s a great honour for me personally to be involved in something so critical for our future,” she said.
“It has been amazing to connect with other people on the committee and hear about the work they do with their companies or supporting other companies making net zero carbon targets. Once the report was launched I had so many people around the world get in touch through LinkedIn to discuss it further. It’s rewarding to see the flow-on effect of your work.”
Cardno is a global infrastructure, environmental and social development company that operates in more than 100 countries with headquarters in Brisbane. It recently released its first global sustainability report, outlining its progress and future steps for the company to meet its sustainability goals.
“The work I’ve done with FIDIC feeds directly into our first sustainability report that we’ve pulled together over the past 12 months,” Muir said.
“Just like FIDIC’s State of the World series, our sustainability report takes the goals outlined by the United Nations and applies the relevant framework across our business to help us stay on track.”
The State of the World series aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework for sustainability with targets for 2030 that has been rapidly gaining traction around the world. The sixth goal (SDG6) is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” and is the primary goal behind FIDIC’s Establishing the Value of Water report.
The Sustainable Development Institute at Monash University released a report in 2020 outlining Australia’s progress towards the overall SDGs. For SDG6, on Clean Water and Sanitation, it rated water affordability as needing improvement, with general trends showing a decline, while Australia’s efforts to reduce water consumption per capita is on track to meeting the 2030 goal.
“When it comes to providing water at an affordable price for all, it’s a real challenge. Remote communities versus inner-city communities each place different importance and value on water,” Muir said.
“Customers do not like paying for it, typically, even though it is our most precious and critical resource. How you place a value on it is fundamentally important, and weighing up the cost of infrastructure against what we are willing to pay for, is a challenging balance.”
While her work on the report is complete, Muir knows there is much more work to come in getting the message around sustainable development of water infrastructure out to engineers around the globe.
To read about the business case for change and the need to scale water infrastructure around the world, please download the full report from the FIDIC site.