17.1 Alliance contracting a business model to support sustainability and facilitate innovation and action on climate change?

Margaret Gollagher , Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
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  • Alliance contracting – a business model to support sustainability and facilitate innovation and action on climate change?
    Alliance contracting involves the creation of a contractual, commercial framework that optimises delivery of complex projects with risks that are hard to define, such as the design and construction of major infrastructure.  It embeds the concept of partnering, developed by Charles Cowan, in a contractual context.  In contrast to more conventional, adversarial processes, risk is shared by all participants and value-based solutions are sought.  It is specifically designed to simulate innovative thinking in collaborative, integrated networks of government and business groups undertaking projects with critical time constraints and uncertain and changing scope.   Community, stakeholder and environmental concerns are comparatively easily incorporated into projects via this business framework.  It has also been demonstrated to be a cost effective way of achieving project goals. 

    In Australia, the alliancing model has been increasingly implemented since the 1980s in an attempt to avoid the costly disputes and litigation that previously plagued the detrimentally adversarial engineering and construction industry.   It puts into practice a more cooperative mode of project delivery that, almost radically, underscores the importance of mutual trust and respect between project partners.   Experience suggests that alliancing may be also particularly suited to promoting innovation and achievement of positive outcomes in relation to climate change and other sustainability issues by virtue of its emphasis on collaboration, relationship building, integration, innovation and inclusion of community and environmental concerns.  This approach not only provides scope and legitimisation for the inclusion of sustainability issues as a fundamental requirement, but puts the necessary business culture in place to nurture it.  

    Alliance contracting has the potential to improve the development of infrastructure that may be in place for decades in the uncertain context of climate change.  Those responsible for designing and constructing major infrastructure projects such as roads must consider the emissions associated with their construction, utilisation and decommissioning, as well as taking into account the impact climate change may have on  infrastructure over the long term.  This is a formidable task, requiring attention to resilience and adaptability, with new design parameters and drivers that may change radically over time in ways that are not easily anticipated. 

    This paper examines the theoretical and practical alignment between alliance contracting and sustainability, focusing on climate change.  The Access Alliance, formed in December 2007 to construct a significant project to upgrade sections of a major highway in Western Australia’s wheatbelt region, is used as a case study.   The Access Alliance includes team members from designers Maunsell/AECOM, a contractor and representatives from the government agency, Main Roads WA.