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Building sustainable communities that thrive – an interview with Aecon’s new Director of Sustainability Prabh K. Banga

Feb 18, 2021

Building sustainable communities that thrive. That’s what Aecon’s new Director of Sustainability, Prabh K. Banga, wants Aecon’s legacy in sustainability to be.

With the release of Aecon’s first annual Sustainability Report in August of 2020, Yonni Fushman was appointed Chief Sustainability Officer in addition to his role as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary to ensure the highest level of executive focus on sustainability. Not long after, in October, Aecon bolstered that focus when it welcomed Prabh to the team as its first Director of Sustainability.

A leader in sustainability, Prabh was eager to pioneer a role at a company that’s proud of its unwavering commitment to building safe, resilient and sustainable infrastructure. In her new role, Prabh is dedicated to expanding Aecon’s sustainability initiatives and commitments to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) processes and strategies to drive long-term success and position Aecon as the number one Canadian infrastructure company.

In a recent interview, Prabh spoke to Aecon’s Corporate Affairs team about her journey in the sustainability field, transitioning between Canadian industries, emerging sustainability trends, and how she will enhance Aecon’s role in building a sustainable future.

What drives your passion for sustainability?

My sustainability journey first began at the age of five. I discovered a passion for green living after watching the cartoon movie, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. If you have not seen it, it’s a good watch – especially for kids!

Coming from a family of farmers, the interest in sustainability further developed while listening to stories from my grandparents about the interconnectedness of nature, its ecosystems, and our food production. These stories fed into my environmental passion, and I was fascinated by how efficiently resources were used on farms. Waste was not considered waste, and everything was reused and put back into the “system”. I was intrigued by how this concept of resource efficiency and cost savings could be applied to corporations and other industries. Eventually this passion would lead me to pursue a master’s degree in Resource and Environmental Management from Dalhousie University, with a focus on corporate sustainability.

While I was studying sustainability, it was still an emerging concept and relatively new to the business world. Fast forward to today, it is now a top priority on government and corporate agendas, which I find so exciting. There is still so much progress to be made, but I am motivated by the pace at which these efforts are advancing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this new paradigm shift with Aecon.

At this point in your career, what are you most proud of?

I recognized at a young age that I would need to apply myself to something with purpose and see practical application in what I do. In my personal career journey, I am most proud of being able to give back to the sustainability profession through mentorship and teaching. I want to be able to demonstrate to students that a passion for sustainability can lead to a rewarding career. I am also proud of being recognized as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Individuals by the Airport Business Magazine for my contributions to accelerating sustainability in the aviation industry.

You took on the role of Director, Sustainability at Aecon last fall. What compelled you to move from the aviation industry to the construction and infrastructure development industry?

While working in the aviation industry, I had the opportunity to be involved in multiple infrastructure projects, which is what initially sparked my interest. Infrastructure is a key enabler of economic and social development, so the industry has the potential to also be a catalyst for environmental sustainability. The industry is also in the midst of significant infrastructure investments from both federal and provincial governments and has been identified as a key source of economic stimulus as part of Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic recovery. What excited me about the role at Aecon was the connection between profitability and sustainability. With such a significant pipeline of work, there is immense opportunity to create harmonization between both.

Now that you have been with Aecon for a few months, what do you think of the construction industry’s general view on sustainability?

Traditionally, the conversation has only been about environmental compliance. However, I’ve noticed that the dialogue is changing, and the industry does want to demonstrate leadership in sustainability by going beyond compliance and regulation. Prior to the current pandemic, sustainability was emerging as a strategic priority for many industries, including construction. This was driven by global trends such as climate change, resource scarcity, urbanization, and technological innovations. I thought the pandemic might impact this; however, I find that Aecon has put an even stronger focus on “a green recovery” from COVID-19, to continue “building better” once the pandemic is over.

Are you seeing any sustainability trends that will impact Aecon’s business?

Global trends such as climate change are fundamentally changing investor, customer, and employee expectations of how companies perform, operate and address sustainability. In 2020, almost every conversation with investors involved ESG, and we could see government and local environmental regulations demand an increase in sustainable construction methods, as well as stricter regulation around sustainability reporting standards.

Why is sustainability an important component of Aecon’s strategic thinking?

Sustainability enables us to deliver better solutions for clients, drive operational efficiencies, be innovative, proactively manage risks, and support our people. It’s crucial that we identify potential sustainability impacts on our projects so we can reduce their impact and seek alternatives. Where the answers exist, Aecon should be part of finding the solution, and that is all a part of being the number one Canadian infrastructure company.

Here are a few of Aecon’s sustainability targets and priorities moving forward:

  • Gather baseline data on our current sustainability performance, examine the trends, and set targets
  • Specifically look at setting a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target
  • Have conversations with our stakeholders about their sustainability priorities and expectations for our company
  • Research and pilot new innovations and technologies
  • Enhance diversity and inclusion
  • Develop a culture of sustainability and continuous improvement
  • Work with our suppliers and supply chain on sustainability requirements
  • Continue to enhance our sustainability reporting

To learn more, I highly recommend you read Aecon’s first annual Sustainability Report. Our next Sustainability Report will be released in April of 2021, which will include lots of new content and information about our sustainability ventures.

In your opinion, which Aecon sector or project presents the greatest opportunity to incorporate sustainability?

All of Aecon’s operating sectors and projects focus on environmental and social aspects in their own unique way. The Bermuda International Airport Redevelopment project, for example, went above and beyond compliance, which was a great success for our company. But if I had to pick one, the Utilities sector presents the most promise through innovations in alternative power generation and energy storage. There are a number of sustainable projects and initiatives across the company highlighted within Aecon’s new sustainability section at www.aecon.com/sustainability. I highly recommend checking it out!

Improving our sustainability performance will require the entire company – each and every sector, project and office to evaluate how we work, how we can be more efficient with our resources, how we can reduce and reuse waste, and how we can continue to invest in the communities we live and work in.

Finally, what makes you Aecon Proud?

I’m #AeconProud for two reasons. We create impactful opportunities, and we play an essential role in building thriving communities.

Aecon is proud of the critical role we play while embracing our responsibility in building a sustainable future. Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the safe and sustainable infrastructure projects that we construct, and includes our people, our environment, our communities, and our governance. Recognized as one of the Best Employers in Canada, Aecon safely, profitably, and sustainably delivers integrated solutions to private and public sector clients. Join the sustainability conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram @AeconGroup.