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Peter Hall, who is vice-president at the global energy, infrastructure and professional services firm and also global director for sustainable and resilient infrastructure, explained the concept of a "resilience dividend," which Wood uses to bring a long-term sustainability focus to projects.

Drawing on real projects the company has undertaken, Hall described fundamental shifts in the way his team perceives and addresses key aspects of the challenges at hand. One of these is seeing a project not just as means to deliver an asset but also to deliver services to communities, to ensure job creation and economic development, to restore the surrounding ecology and to create long-term resilience of benefit to all stakeholders, including investors.

"The infrastructure we build has to be able to respond to shocks and stresses in a changing climate," said Hall. "Some of the big shocks we are seeing include of course pandemics, but also economic volatility, wildfires, sea level rise and other health impacts. Chronic stresses also need to be considered."

Developing infrastructure that takes these factors into account requires strong partnerships and stakeholder input right from the outset, and clear roadmaps, he said.

"We really just have one chance to get this right," emphasised Hall. "The projects we build will have to transform communities. This is achievable. But there is a cost to embedding resilience. Some estimates put this at 15-20% of capital costs. This translates into better locations, better materials, being able to leverage other adaptation technologies, and so on. But that cost has a payback, not only because the infrastructure doesn't fail but perhaps just as importantly, because it can provide outcomes over the lifespan of a project such as increased housing, better economic and healthcare outcomes, better emergency responses, social equity. There's a lot of things we can do a lot better."

Key themes behind the successful delivery of this resilience dividend, he observed, include new financing mechanisms with an eye to ESG metrics, to "create bankable projects pre-feasibility," and integrating sustainability across entire project lifecycles.

To bring the various requirements together, Wood deploys clear roadmaps that lead consultants through the process of "understand, assess, deliver," making sure they ask the right questions at the right time, innovate, are flexible and adaptable, anticipate potential negative consequences, and build in targets and visions early in a project. The company has devised the ‘Wood ResilienceLens’ and a toolkit for resilient recovery to guide the process.

Describing what projects for a net-zero future look like, Hall gave real-world examples that include the real time management of emissions reporting and optimisation; the development of cloud based digital and simulation tools for public transit modelling; and the restoration of the natural flow of a river to improve aquatic and surrounding ecosystem health, prevent flooding and improve access to services and housing.

Wood recently released its financial report for 2020, which revealed the stresses and strains of the global pandemic on the business, as well as underlining its strategic focus on ESG leadership and leveraging its position to support sustainable infrastructure and the energy transition.