SDG’ Impact on Infrastructure Projects: History
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This paper responds to the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).  The paper suggests this is of paramount importance for both business and society. Across the construction sector, despite evidence that suggests 88% of those surveyed want to measure the SDG impact at both the business and project levels, there continues to be major challenge in achieving this objective. This paper uses empirical evidence from the results of a qualitative research study of 40 interviews with executives from the United Kingdom (UK) construction industry. It was supported by a text-based content analysis to strengthen the findings. The results indicate that SDG measurement practices are embraced in principle but are problematic in practice and that rarely does action match rhetoric. While the research was completed in the UK, the findings have broader applicability to other countries since most construction firms have extensive global business footprints. Researchers can use the findings to extend the current understanding of measuring outcomes and impact at project level, and, for practitioners, the study provides insights into the contextual preconditions necessary to achieve the intended outcomes of adopting a mechanism for the measurement of SDGs. The international relevance of this research is inherently linked to the global nature of the SDGs and therefore the results could be used outside of UK.

  • sustainability
  • project success
  • business–society
  • business models
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • sustainable development
  • infrastructure project

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The establishment of any society rests on the development of a number of integrated areas, including industrial, social and economic systems [1], while consuming vast amounts of resources that often negatively impact the environment that they depend on. Many of these developments can be aligned directly or indirectly with projects delivered across infrastructure categories within the construction industry. Indeed, recent projections in the sector indicate that an estimated USD $94 trillion [2] of investment in infrastructure projects is required globally by 2040. This represents a massive opportunity to stimulate economic prosperity, reduce poverty and raise standards in health, education and gender equality. However, there are also risks that the infrastructure project investment is squandered ineffectively or, worse, damages the environment and society that the economic development is dependent on. According to Morris [3], given the critical role that the project management community play, there is an urgent need for further research to ascertain more effective strategies to ensure balanced sustainable development to counter the threats of climate change and other global goals. Such global goals have been codified through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2015, the international community responded to the sustainable development challenge with their report Transforming Our World: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development [4]. The SDGs are the United Nations’ blueprint, with 193 nations signatories, to address the global challenges, such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice [5]. The concept of sustainable development acquired its most cohesive definition in the United Nations’ 1987 Brundtland Commission report, which described it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” [6]. Using the “triple bottom line” [7,8,9], Ochieng, Price and Moore [10] took the definition further by placing it in the context of global construction projects and describing it as the balance of economic, social and environmental aspects. In their book [10], they identify a number of systemic issues, “hard and soft” in nature, that provide new challenges for global construction projects in relation to sustainable development.
There is a continuing need to understand how sustainability and, specifically, performance against the SDGs can be measured for infrastructure projects from the construction sector. Recent research [11,12,13,14] has indicated that linking infrastructure project success to SDG targets is problematic. Also, evidence has indicated that, at the project manager level, whilst the appetite for action is very strong, especially by millennials [14], there do not appear to be the tools, methods, leadership or business-society-environment framework to carry out meaningful measurement of SDG success at project level. This represents a knowledge gap that results in weaker investment decisions since SDG lessons are not being learned from project delivery successes and failures. According to this development, the objectives of this research study are to (1) identify the challenges and opportunities of SDG measurement for construction-industry projects and (2) understand how the SDGs and more generally sustainability are viewed in the context of the corporate strategy of construction sector enterprises.
The following section provides the literature review, which includes a brief overview of the concept of SDGs and their linkage to sustainability theory as well as a review of challenges and opportunities for measuring SDGs in the construction industry. The literature review is used to synthesise a series of theory-driven propositions. This is followed by the methods section and subsequently the findings and discussion sections. The final section concludes the paper with evaluation of the propositions and proposals for critical success factors that might inform the development of a prototype model for the measurement of SDGs. This section also recommends areas for further studies. In summary, the objective of this research is to explore the contextual issues that affect the linking of global goals to local delivery on infrastructure projects. The specific research question is “How do senior leaders in the construction sector rate and use global UN SDGs for infrastructure investment decisions at the local level?” Several propositions are derived from the literature review and they explore the research question further. Importantly, whilst the research is based on interviews with senior executives of UK firms, they were representative of firms that mostly had a global or regional footprint (57%), had staff levels mostly in the range of 10–25,000 (62%) and were mostly at, or above, senior executive level (defined as having “director” in their role title), including nearly a third at CEO or board level who reflected individuals who could represent their firm’s views. It is therefore considered that the value of this research has international relevance because of the inherent global nature of SDGs and the global footprint of the organisations interviewed.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/su12197998

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