Episode 2: 2032 and Beyond – Sustainable infrastructure and legacy of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games

06 August 2023

In this episode, Ashurst Risk Advisory Director Michael Duggan and Partner in the Project and Energy Transition Team, Andrew McCormack are interviewed by Ashurst’s Global Leader Client Centre of Excellence Kim Wiegand, about their opinions and insights into the sustainable infrastructure themes and measures to come out of the Brisbane 2032 Master Plan and recently released Elevate 2042 consultation paper, including sustainable stadium developments, transport and environmental and social stewardship initiatives.

Andrew talks about some of the recent sustainable stadium developments in Australia and overseas that the 2032 Brisbane Games can look to as benchmarks for sustainability (“Suncorp Stadium features energy-efficient lighting, water-efficient fixtures and a rainwater harvesting system for irrigation”). Michael also speaks about what the infrastructure legacy of the Games looks like sharing the four themes of the Elevate 2042 consultation paper, (“The key to the final legacy plan will be in identifying how these four themes are integrated to enable impact.”)

This episode is part of Ashurst’s Beyond 2032 podcast mini-series, that examines the range of important issues which touch on the preparations for, delivery of, and legacy flowing from the 2032 Games.

The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


Kim Wiegand:

At Ashurst, we acknowledge the First Nations people as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work in Australia and pay our respects to their elders, past and present. We extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people listening today. Hello and welcome to our next episode of 2032 and Beyond, our podcast series focusing on the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My name is Kim Wiegand and I'm the Global Leader of our Client Centre of Excellence here at Ashurst. In this podcast series, we'll be taking a detailed look at the range of important issues which touch on the preparations for, delivery of, and legacy flowing from the 2032 Games. As a firm, Ashurst has experience in the delivery of recent major Games projects, including mandates for Sydney Olympics, London 2012 Games and Tokyo Games. Throughout this series, we aim to draw on the experience to showcase some of our common themes as we head towards the hotly awaited 2032 Games.

Today I am joined by two expert speakers, Andrew McCormack, a Partner in the Ashurst Project and Energy Transition Team, and Mike Duggan, a Director in our Ashurst Risk Advisory Business, specializing in strategy and sustainability. In this episode, we'll be exploring the intersection of sports and sustainability in the context of Olympic Games. Mike and Andrew are here with me to discuss how Brisbane as a host city is embracing sustainability to create an environmentally conscious Olympic Games and how the organizing committee might learn from recent experience when incorporating sustainability into both construction and operation of new venues. Mike, if I could come to you first, how does the organizing committee plan to maximize sustainable infrastructure in the Brisbane 2032 master plan?

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, it's a really important question. I think the one thing the organizing committee's really done well from the beginning is really set strict and best practice sustainability standards for all the infrastructure projects that'll be part of the Games, which is certainly putting them in a position to be able to make sure that the objectives that they've set for the infrastructure and for it to be sustainability and hopefully it should be climate positive at the end will be well in hand, which I think is excellent. And this includes things like environmentally friendly materials being used in stadium construction, in the fabrication of roadways, optimizing energy efficiency measures across stadiums such as lighting, renewable energy sets, which I'm sure will be all over the top of stadiums in the form of micro wind turbines and solar panels.

And also those things that use energy and embodied energy, things like water management systems and coming with really innovative ways to be able to ensure that the various different infrastructure that's put into place, which includes stadiums but also includes all of those supporting services out to the community, really have in place systems that will put downward pressure on the climate budget that we're going to have and reduce the amount of embodied carbon and emissions that we'll see.

As an example, right now we're really seeing this in places like the tourism sector preparing itself really in advance for things like the Games and they do this every time. You saw this in London, you see this, it happened throughout South America, Brazil. They really got themselves ahead of the game to make sure that the infrastructure that they put in place that really supports a lot of the things like stadiums such as where the guests stay, where they dine, where they recreate, really getting in front of what we'll see as being a significant push for sustainable infrastructure across Southeast Queensland and I'm sure across Queensland and Australia. That includes things like circular economy processes, embedding waste management processes to really reduce the amount of energy and embodied water that's part of the things that they do in their kitchens and the services that they provide to their guests.

And also things like microgrids and battery electric storage, which are going into new hotels and resorts all around Australia right now as we speak, to make sure that these places can really generate their own electricity, store it and use it when they need it, which really shores up their security as a piece of Games infrastructure. Things like these green building practices that they're putting into place aren't new. A lot of these have been around for a long time. They're established across the world. They've been established by things like the Green Building Council here in Australia for 10, 15 years. They're really just being now delivered at scale and I think that's an exciting, really exciting aspect of something like the Games is that it allows these types of innovations and these standards and systems that have been used for a long time to be really delivered at scale.

Which look, I'll tell you just this past week I attended the Queensland Opportunities Breakfast here in Brisbane where the Premier and a number of other people spoke about the opportunities for procurement across the Games, and one of the big themes of that was sustainable procurement obviously, but specifically procurement that will put downward pressure on our emissions budget as a state, which is really exciting when the procurement processes are getting really in front of the sustainable infrastructure challenge and ensuring that we're kept honest in terms of our objectives.

Kim Wiegand:

That's interesting, and if a lot of, I suppose the infrastructure and the development you're talking about is on I suppose current assets. This interesting statistic that really stood out to me is that 84% of the venues identify in the master plan are actually existing or temporary, so they're not their current buildings. Andrew, if I throw to you, in your view, is it possible to build sustainability into an existing venue?

Andrew McCormack:

Well, I think Kim, whilst it presents some challenges with an existing asset, rather than integrating sustainability into a new design of something you're going to build from scratch, there are a number of strategies that are available to make an existing stadium more eco-friendly. You can improve energy efficiency in the stadium by some fairly simple things like upgrading the lighting, improving the insulation, installing solar panels. Stadiums typically have nice big roofs on which you can put a new solar array or if they are out of town venues you can put the solar array in a nearby area and just connect in. You can also do simple things like improve the water efficiency fixtures in restrooms, concession areas, and also at a sort of bigger level in the stadium, improve and implement irrigation systems so that for the either playing surface or for any water needs that aren't drinking water around the place, you can work out how and when to best use the water by working out when is it most efficient to collect water?

When is it most efficient to use it so that it doesn't evaporate in the heat of the day? It's particularly important in Queensland. You can also incorporate rainwater harvesting systems. Again, most stadiums got a nice big roof. They're very well suited to rainwater collection and then storage to use in the upkeep and maintenance of the stadium. I think the other thing that will happen, and this will be probably in existing venues as well, is there will be a massive push to use public transports to get patrons to and from the venues. Certainly none of the new venues will be built with private car spaces and facilities for parking, and I think even with a lot of the existing venues, event organizers would be keen to move people away from private use vehicles to get to and from the venues. And that's important because we are, as we touched on in one of our earlier podcasts, we're committed to a climate positive Games and that means that every bit of carbon that we produce in delivering these Games, in constructions, in operations, will be measured.

So every saving, no matter how small it is, will be important. They all add up and I think what we're going to be looking for with a lot of these sort of ideas and mechanisms is for incremental benefits. Given that commitment we've got to climate positive outcome, every little bit will help. That's in operations as well as in construction. And listening to Mike a bit earlier just reminded me that we need to sometimes think out of the box and the one that always comes to mind as an example is from the UK. It wasn't strictly connected with a sporting event, but there's a big toll road called the M6 toll road in the UK where they used two and a half million used Mills & Boon novels that were then pulped and used in the construction of the road. I'm not saying that's exactly what we should do in Queensland, but certainly it's food for thoughts.

Kim Wiegand:

Well, thank you, Andrew. I am not sure how our book producers will feel about that last statement, but it's definitely food for thought as you say. Mike, if I can come back to you, we've discussed legacy in a previous episode. What do you think a successful sustainability legacy looks like?

Michael Duggan:

Well, I think the idea of legacy for many is exceptionally romantic. It's obviously a journey that a number of parties are going on together, and I think that's one really interesting thing that the organizing committee seems to be doing to look at legacy as a core pillar of the Games and that's really considering the community is that kind of party that they're going to go on this long-term journey with, which I think is an exciting approach to the way that they're framing their projects and the strategy in which they're going to deliver the Games. Some of those, the investing in community projects and initiatives that really promote some of those key things that are important to the community such as environmental stewardship, social responsibility, but also just those core things to a household such as economic growth and the ability to have a job that's secure.

All of those things are kind of built into the long-term idea of legacy, which is really becoming a core part of the Games strategy and will flow on into the operations and will flow much further into the future as the community takes great benefit from those things that are put in place coming into the Games and leading out of it. Look, some of the key things that they're looking at right now include supporting local environmental organizations to create green spaces and putting in place public education processes and campaigns to help everyone really understand the importance of sustainability to our community. From an infrastructure perspective, you look at things like stadiums, roads and rail, tourism, industries and housing, all of those things are really going to be designed through the Games to leave world class region that is really the envy of the world.

That'll be born out in our sporting facilities, and the way that the infrastructure is designed with sustainability in mind, and I think that's almost term that's gone out of vogue in the last few years is design with the end in mind. Same concept comes from a sustainability perspective and is used in architecture and design across the world and that is really designed for what the outcome is that you want to get out from the design exercise, and that's where this legacy is really becoming a cornerstone of the way that the Games facilities and infrastructure are being designed.

The venues that will continue to host sporting events and s serve the community for many years to come and promote the physical activity and the lifestyles of the people that are part of our region are all going to be born out of this legacy mindset and designing with the outcome of legacy in mind. The exciting thing will really incorporate almost a new set of Olympic ideals that go beyond just kind of the sporting proudness of a country, but also the ability of a country to create lasting and long-term legacy for the people that will remain after the athletes have gone home with the metal slung around their necks.

Kim Wiegand:

That's interesting, and if we think of, I suppose we come back to the development side of things in terms of designing for legacy, but if we think about developing those, Andrew, I might throw it back to you, what are some of the examples of sustainable stadium developments that the Brisbane, that 2032 Olympic Games can look to as benchmark say for sustainability?

Andrew McCormack:

I think there's probably a couple of really good examples right here in Australia, both of new build stadiums, but also of how to adapt existing stadiums. If we look first at a new build, the best example or best recent example I think is probably Optus Stadium in Perth, which is a multipurpose venue with a big focus on energy efficiency and water conservation. It's got some of those things that we talked about earlier on. It's got a state-of-the-art lighting system that uses LED lighting and that's actually reduced the energy consumption of the lighting system from a typical stadium of the equivalent size by 40%. That's a significant saving both in cost and in emissions as well as having a rainwater harvesting system as well that we talked about. They've also incorporated native landscaping and native flora into the design and the surrounds of the stadium, and that's important because that minimizes water usage, especially in a place like Queensland.

We're in a subtropical climate, if you don't use a vegetation that's used to living here, it's going to need a lot of water to look after and that's going to undermine some of the savings that you can generate elsewhere. A bit closer to home at Suncorp Stadium here in Brisbane, or Lang Park for those of you listening on the ABC, that's an existing venue, but also it's been able to successfully implement various sustainability measures including changing the lighting system to something that's more energy efficient and also introducing rainwater harvesting to water the playing area. Now, none of that was there when the original stadium was built, but there are things that you can do to adapt the stadium to be less of an energy consumer and putting a bit more back. I think there's great examples here that we can look to, Kim.

Kim Wiegand:

And if we take some of those examples and more broadly, how would those innovations or innovations like this improve the outlook for the Games' carbon budget? Maybe Mike, that's one for you.

Michael Duggan:

Yeah, well, I think the principle here is pretty simple, and that's every saving and emissions that's made through these types initiatives that Andrew is mentioning will really be reflected in our states' and Games' carbon budgets. When they roll that up into the budget for the Games, they do the planning beforehand, they model that and then they reflect on it and they measure it at the end. Every single ounce of carbon that we actually save is going to be reflected in the downward pressure we see on that carbon budget and in our ability to be able to meet the climate positive objectives that we've set for ourselves.

I think a couple of things, like you can consider this similar to your household budget in many cases. All of these things that you put in your own home such as let's say energy efficient lighting or an increase, your ability to be able to keep your home cool through insulation, all of those types of things are simple little changes that'll be made at a bigger scale across the various different pieces of infrastructure such as stadiums, things like transport fuels consumption, those fugitive emissions that come from ones that you can't even see, touch or feel that come from things like refrigeration.

All of those things are going to add up to this carbon budget and can be reduced really to get to a net zero objective, which if you think about climate positive, that's going beyond the net zero, but even to start considering that kind of baseline net zero objective, we really have to ensure that the things like emissions intensity of the things that we do, like the electricity and the fuels that we use in our car is lowered from the current base case as it is.

To really capitalize on some of these energy and innovations, we're going to have to do a couple of key things and they all kind of revolve around this key word that you're going to hear come up a lot I think over the next few years, and that's scalability. That's the ability to take some of those examples of water efficiency and energy efficiency that were part of our stadium examples and be able to more broadly scale them up and out across a cityscape, across an entire state.

Things like being able to make sure that the suburbs that we live in can actually generate or store through battery electric storage, their electricity locally will allow us to be able to actually become much more energy secure and reliant upon energy that can be stored and used in a smaller space, which often cuts down on the amount of embodied energy or water that's involved in the movement of energy around the state or around the region. Those types of exciting things like decentralized energy systems and the ability for a community to actually generate its own energy, it's going to be something that we're going to see scale up and out across our neighborhoods as well as be used within stadiums and those kind of centralized infrastructure to really turn the dial on how our emissions profile will look.

Kim Wiegand:

I see. I mean, there's definitely some interesting innovations there, aren't there? If we change direction just ever so slightly, Andrew, we recently saw the Premier and Minister for the Olympic and Paralympic Games released the Elevate 2042 consultation paper. What are some of the themes you took from this release?

Andrew McCormack:

I think the first thing to say is I describe this paper as an aspirational document, which I say that in a very positive sense. What it does is set out some high level goals for the Games' legacy. You'll see that the document focuses on not just the years leading up to the Games as we prepare, but also for the 10 years for the decade that follows it. The goal is to maximize for the benefit of the whole community, the economic, social, environmental, and other benefits that come out of Southeast Queensland hosting the Games. Another sort of notable feature of this document is it gives us some insight onto what legacy is in the context of the Games and legacy has been a word that is spoken about in almost every press conference and briefing that we see and hear about the Games. It also though provides some useful guidance on what is not part of the thinking on the legacy of the Games and projects that will have a legacy are not ones that benefit only a limited group of people.

They're also projects that can't be realistically achieved. If you fall into one of those two categories, it's not going to be a project that gets the attention and funding of the Games. I think that's quite interesting. What's also very interesting is there's a clear message coming out of the consultation paper that there's a significant public desire to build sustainable venues. That's a tangible thing that can be done and it's got I think, broad community support from the various stakeholders who had input into this consultation paper. In fact, one of the key ideas that was raised in the paper, and I think they put it like this, our Olympic and Paralympic venues should have the smallest environmental footprint possible and there should be sustainable economic and social legacies. I think that message is really clear and we now look forward to the final Brisbane 2032 legacy plan, which should be released later this year, and that should provide perhaps a bit more detail and granularity on how those outcomes will be achieved.

Kim Wiegand:

Mike, what are you hoping to see captured in the final Brisbane 2032 legacy plan?

Michael Duggan:

My thoughts are just a few of many. There's already kind of 14,000 ideas from across Australia that were part of Elevate 2042, and look, I've heard many, I've been fortunate enough to be able to go out and talk to many people around both Brisbane but also across Southeast Queensland, particularly within kind of the sporting space, but also those people working behind the scenes on the climate positive delivery of the Games. There's three kind of things that really stand out to me that are really key to legacy. Number one is really building on the vision of the future that the community really wants to see, and that's articulated in the document. You are really understanding and getting behind what stakeholders need and really require to see legacy be something that provides them with an ongoing benefit for many years to come, which is the whole purpose of the concept of legacy.

Aiming for long-term and impactful opportunities, so being able to understand exactly what is going to really change how communities are able to operate and feel success through things like the Games and the kind of opportunities that it'll leave in its wake, at the end is really kind of demonstrating that kind of a real genuine community benefit. And from these themes that have come out of the Elevate 2042, there's really, there's an augmenter of those. There's something that really powers up those three types of themes and that's really the integration between them and I don't see that being talked about yet. I don't see it as something that is really being able to be captured in the plan as of yet, and I'm not hearing a lot about it is how do each of those themes actually level the other themes up? How do they work together to create acceleration of what they're trying to achieve?

And I think that is where the real magic's going to happen is in the integration between those themes and the ability to level up the legacy objectives that they have. How are we going to be able to actually understand whether legacy's been achieved? It's another thing that I think they're really going to need to be able to identify as part of legacy and something that I see in my legacy of vision, and that is being able to measure and demonstrate the actual tangible community environmental benefit, and I think impact measurement in things like social impact, for example, is very challenging. Say it's not an exact science and it's difficult and I think we're going to have to get very nuanced and very sophisticated in how we're actually going to be able to demonstrate the outcomes of legacy to ensure that what we've set out to achieve can actually really be achieved.

And only then will we be able to understand whether we've been able to get to a point where the plan that we put in place has been successful, which is going to be an exciting time when we look back, we sit down. Years ago I went to the dinner for, I think it was about the 30th, 20th or 30th, I forget now, Commonwealth Games kind of celebration, and one of the big things from that dinner that you took away was an understanding that the plan that they put in place so many years before to create lasting legacy for the community was something that had a measurable level of success and that people were proud of, and I think that's going to be where we really see legacy come to the fore is the pride that the community feels in what they've created 10, 20, 30 years later.

Kim Wiegand:

That is exciting. You said the word magic there and exciting and pride, and I think they're all things that would be lovely to be part of the legacy of this project as well. Andrew, one final query. Away from the infrastructure, where do you see the opportunities to really maximize the sustainability of these Games?

Andrew McCormack:

Well, Kim, I think you're correct to identify that sustainability goes beyond just the physical infrastructure that's required to host the Games. Because we're going to see so many government programs that will touch on issues or infrastructure or other things that are relevant to the Games in some way, I think we should see a broader application of this philosophy of sustainable outcomes across many of the aspects of how we live and do business in Southeast Queensland and indeed in Australia, and that also aligns with the national targets to tackle climate change and reduce global emissions. I think that the Brisbane 2032 Games will also promote, as Mike was alluding to social and economic sustainability, and I think some of the key themes that will be addressed in the years to come will be inclusion and accessibility.

Everyone should be able to attend these Games, and I think that that's going to carry through to everyday life and ensuring that all members of the community can participate in things that most of us just take for granted, that can actually present quite difficult challenges for a great deal of people in our community. I think that we'll see that the buildup and the legacy to the Games, also celebrating indigenous culture and heritage as we continue our journey of reconciliation in Australia and also there'll be a, I think a big focus on supporting local businesses and creating employment opportunities in the regions that are hosting the Games. By actively involving the community and pursuing these goals, I think that these Games can leave a really positive social and economic legacy that should extend well beyond holding the Games themselves.

Kim Wiegand:

Thank you, Andrew, and thank you, Mike, for sharing those insights. It will be interesting to see as the master plan and legacy plans for the Games continue to evolve, how the Games will become a remarkable showcase of sustainable practices and incorporate some of the sustainable practices we've discussed today. Well, that's all for this episode of 2032 and Beyond. Thank you for joining us. We hope that you can join again for our next episode. For now, I have been your host, Kim Wiegand. Goodbye.

This podcast contains general information and does not constitute legal advice. Ashurst is not a sponsor, licensee, or promotional partner of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement, nor any Olympic body, event, team, or athlete. Nothing in this podcast is intended to suggest any such sponsorship, license, or promotional affiliation.

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.