HomeRail NewsSo what is sustainability

So what is sustainability

Listen to this article

Sustainability. It’s the latest buzz-word in railway circles and everyone is talking about it.

But what is sustainability? Is there a definition? Or is it another word like ‘existentialism’ and ‘serendipity’ that clever people use to confuse more normal mortals?

It seems that there is indeed a definition. What’s more, Network Rail is now using sustainability as one factor when assessing tenders for contracts. So it’s important to understand what it’s all about.

Then who better to ask than Tertius Beneke, principal environment specialist for Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, what it’s all about?

Sustainability defined

“We often get asked what is sustainability or what does sustainability mean?” Tertius explained. “There is a well established definition of sustainability that was a product of a United Nations document entitled Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.”

That definition is: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t help much. However, to simplify this information and to spread and implement the concept of sustainable development, Tertius uses a Venn diagram to explain the interdependencies of the sustainability concept.

Taken from Network Rail’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2013 – 2024, the diagram illustrates that sustainability is only achieved when economic, social and environmental aspects of a project are in balance.

“The spheres are also of equal size, an often overlooked part of the diagram,” Tertius explains further. “The purpose of this is that you cannot trade the one for the other, so rapid economic growth cannot be pursued to the detriment of the environment or to the detriment of people. The reverse is that economic development should not be sacrificed for the preservation of the environment at all costs.

“The definition also integrates the notion of intergenerational equity where we leave a world behind for our children that can support their needs in the same way that we had the opportunity to meet our own needs.”

Sustainability working group

Network Rail has embraced this definition of sustainability and has incorporated it not only into its policy and strategies, but also into how it actually does business.

To identify the main areas of sustainability to focus on, the same approach is used for environmental management systems where the activity of the organisation is reviewed and the areas of impact and opportunities are identified. These then form the starting point of developing robust measures including measurable quantitative data and qualitative discussions to track progress along the sustainability path as a company matures in delivering its sustainability goals.

The Commercial Directors Forum, chaired by David McLoughlin as part of contracts and procurement, has created a sustainability working group that involves the Network Rail supply chain with the aim of embedding sustainability into the work carried out by Infrastructure Projects. This group defined a list of sustainable procurement principles and has initiated a 5% sustainability score as part of all tender evaluations to drive the consideration of sustainability from the earliest phase of the project.

“Following the introduction of our sustainability strategy, Infrastructure Projects has developed objectives and targets to measure quantitative data on how we are performing in regards to our sustainability aims,” Tertius continued. “This takes sustainability from a misunderstood concept to right to the forefront where we and our supply chain can look at actual data and measure our performance. As expected, the targets measure a wide range of issues from opportunities for local employment, health and safety, biodiversity, waste management and financial efficiencies. These targets are reported on, reviewed and shared throughout Network Rail and our supply chain.”

To embed these targets and sustainability into the business and the wider supply chain, Network Rail will be implementing an integrated management system, including environmental, quality and health & safety, to formally track these targets and drive continuous improvement. Network Rail will also be using various other methods to assess performance such as PRISM (Performance and Registration Information Systems Management) and sustainability assessment schemes including CEEQUAL (Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Award Scheme) and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).


Sustainability in civil engineering projects can be measured against the international CEEQUAL standard. CEEQUAL is an awards scheme developed by the Institute of Civil Engineers and is now in its tenth year. It is another way to show practically what sustainability means and how one can implement it on projects.

Infrastructure Projects already has a very good track record with its major programmes achieving a number of CEEQUAL awards. The Network Rail Thameslink project (TLP) has registered seven major projects and already won two Excellent Whole Project Awards for Farringdon and Blackfriars (90%-93%), three Excellent Interim Design Awards for Borough Viaduct, two awards for London Bridge (83% to 96.9%) and two Outstanding Achievement Awards for energy/carbon (Blackfriars) and ecology/biodiversity (Farringdon). The TLP is also the first programme in Network Rail to register its track & signalling project to CEEQUAL Term Contracts.

The Norton Bridge Grade Separation project has recently achieved an Excellent Interim Client and Design Award with a score of 97.4% which, at the time of writing, is the highest ever score on an interim award.

The Crossrail Programme has registered six of its major projects with CEEQUAL

World Environment Day

“However, it is not just about what we do at work that matters and it isn’t just about systems and processes,” Tertius stressed. “To really connect and drive change, the sustainability agenda process must be supported by hearts and minds. We need to engage people in issues that are not necessarily aligned to their working lives but which also touches on life outside of work.”

This year, for the first time, Network Rail celebrated world environment day to start bringing together all three of the spheres into the hearts and minds campaign.

Events were held all over the country to support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that focussed on food waste. Every area put its own interpretation on the celebration with activities ranging from volunteers handing out pamphlets to information tables and chilli-growing contests – anything to make people aware of World Environment Day and force them to think about the impact that their food buying and discarding activities have on the environment.

“Sustainability is not an intangible concept,” Tertius finished. “The main way of implementing it is to simply focus on where your business, or you as an individual, has the largest impact and the largest opportunity to improve the balance between people, pounds and the environment. Set some measurable targets and strive to improve on these, year on year.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.