20:20 VISIONS - Framing sustainability for city-building projects

The City of Sydney launched its C40 Women4Climate Mentorship Program in May, with Mayor Clover Moore stating “Climate action is the City of Sydney’s top priority”, as reflected in the City’s 2030 Strategy and Climate Emergency declaration.

Ahead of the Global Climate Strike called for 20 September, the program’s 20 mentees are taking this opportunity to share the vision for each of their projects, and their view on climate activism. The outcomes of their projects will be presented at the global Women4Climate Conference in Sydney in April 2020.

Johanna Walton-Hespe, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Arup



Large built environment projects can and should aim to be ambitious in their approach to environmental, social and economic impacts. My vision is for the teams working on these projects  to shift the way they think about the benefits their projects can have by aligning them with a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs go beyond minimizing environmental impact to driving improvement across all areas of sustainability.


I am involved in many large built environment projects, including infrastructure, master planned precincts and cities. However, legislated sustainability requirements for major projects in NSW sometimes leave room for interpretation and what is considered ‘best practice’. As a result, sustainability thinking is often inconsistently or incompletely applied to these projects, which limits their ability to affect change.

Arup has made a commitment to the SDGs and is working hard to use them to reframe our work and redefine what ‘better’ looks like in our mission to shape a better world. The SDGs can provide sustainability themes and reasoning to inform the earliest stages of a project. The SDGs favour collective action and address broad themes that aim to support sustainable development. These include good health and well-being, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action. The SDGs are interdependent and therefore take a holistic approach to sustainability.

My project aims to use the SDGs as a framework to inform how drivers of city-building projects approach sustainability. This framework would be used at the earliest stages of the project before major design decisions are made and would aim to upskill designers, project teams and clients to consider all aspects of sustainability in their work. Ultimately, this approach would allow projects to benchmark and find synergies between projects using the same framework, driving even larger outcomes and expanding their reach. If successful, my project will allow Arup, and the projects we work on, to set targets for sustainability outcomes that are far reaching, ambitious and address multiple human, economic and environmental criteria.  


Cities are responsible for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. As global populations continue to move to or build new cities, their impact on climate change can be expected to continue to grow. As with many things, the scale of the risk is proportional to the scale of the opportunity. The infrastructure that serves city communities offers a means, not just to reduce emissions, but to improve resilience to climate change, improve health and financial outcomes for residents, and improve regional and global environmental outcomes.


I will be there on September 20. Sometimes the scale and complexity of climate change issues can make me feel like I’m working in relative isolation. Striking for a cause I believe in gives me hope because I can see all the people who are united behind the same cause. It gives me a sense of purpose and momentum.

I am endlessly impressed by the School Strike 4 Climate movement and how the world’s youth are articulating the urgency of this crisis. I want the youth activists to know that they are not alone and that there are plenty of adults who agree that there is no time left to mince words.

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals