Stéphanie Groen works as the Director of Coastal & Climate Change, Asia for Aurecon. Based in Singapore, she was appointed to the position at the beginning of 2020. Previously, Stéphanie was involved in marine and environmental projects for more than 15 years with DHI and her education is in civil engineering and business administration. IADC also knows Stéphanie as the winner of the Young Author Award in 2007. More recently, she was appointed as a committee member to the prestigious FIDIC Sustainable Development Committee. We were interested to hear more from Stéphanie – her views on sustainability, the collaboration with the dredging industry through FIDIC and what her new role can mean for sustainable water infrastructure projects.
Director of Coastal & Climate Change, Asia at Aurecon, Stéphanie Groen

Can you tell me about your academic and professional background and experience?

Back in 2002, I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and a Master of Science in civil engineering and geotechnology. In 2011, I completed an MBA, which gave me more insight into business operations and running an organisation. This turned out to be very useful for my role later in my career.

‘Sustainability is a topic close to my heart. I grew up with it.’

How did you end up in the South-East Asian region?

I arrived in Singapore in 2002 as a trailing spouse for a two-year stint. I was fortunate enough to find a local job in Singapore and have not looked back since. I am very thankful for the privilege to work and live in other parts of the world. It makes you agile, streetsmart and broadens your experience at an extraordinary pace. And believe me, some parts of Asia are moving fast!

Living and working abroad means having to adapt to the local culture and business practices, and this has not always been easy. The Dutch are often known to be extremely blunt, direct and stubborn (with good intentions, but still...) and this is often not understood or appreciated in Asia. But we are also known for honest collaboration, taking a win-win approach and having a business mindset. These traits have been very helpful to me throughout my career in Asia.

Photo courtesy of Aurecon

What do you like about working in South-East Asia?

South-East Asia is so diverse; I find it fascinating. How each country (for example, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines) does business is different and this means adaptability and flexibility are key. The best part of Singapore is its ability to make big decisions at high level within a relatively short time, especially with respect to economic and infrastructure developments. This is extremely powerful and generally good for business and for our industry.

Do you speak any languages from the region?

English is fortunately still the common business language, so English, Singlish and Dutch are the languages that I currently master. I did have a go at Japanese last year, more to be able to get around during holidays and to find out how difficult it would be to learn if I wanted to live and work in Japan. Conclusion: very difficult. Once you get familiar with some of the Hiragana and Katakana characters and you think you are starting to understand, Japanese Kanji and other conversation forms are thrown into the equation. Furthermore, COVID-19 unfortunately derailed my 2020 summer holiday plans to the Japanese Alps, so learning and practicing Japanese is going to take me a lifetime I think.

How did you become involved with dredging and why?

Van Oord BV was the first company that replied to my traineeship application. Honestly, I had no idea what I got myself into. They initially had a traineeship position in India, but decided against it as a blond Western female at the site might have been too much of a culture shock for both parties. That’s why they offered me a traineeship in Wales, UK. The two projects that I supported were related to dredging trenches for the deployment and backfilling of sewer outfalls.

During this internship, I experienced many firsts: learning about dredging, applying backfilling and surveying techniques, operating out at sea, becoming seasick way too often, experiencing delays due to bad weather, living and working in another country, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, using a (Motorola) mobile phone for work, being on my own and being dependent on my colleagues seven days a week. I absolutely loved it.

A win-win approach: Balancing socio-economic development (through land reclamation) with environmental preservation.

In 2007, you won the IADC Young Author Award with an article on environmental monitoring and managing reclamations works close to sensitive habitats (‘Environmental Monitoring and Management of Reclamations Works Close to Sensitive Habitats’, Terra et Aqua 108). What did winning the award do for you?

The award was a great acknowledgement that the work we had done was meaningful and was viewed as something different and positive that could be implemented in projects. The concept presented was later used and adopted by PIANC, and further described in the PIANC 108-2010 report ‘Dredging and Port Construction around Coral Reefs’.

What influence did winning the award have on your career?

I think winning the award definitely helped to make the Environmental Monitoring & Management concept more visible and being endorsed in this way supported the implementation of the feedback methodology.

The focus was on forecasting environmental impacts, daily measurements at the source and quick feedback about and adaptation to local unexpected environmental conditions. This was different from what the industry was using at that point in time. The previous monitoring systems were primarily reactive and only recorded or flagged environmental issues when damage had been done. This pro-active approach was new and focused on a win-win approach: ensuring that dredging and reclamation works can continue within the boundaries of environmental compliance. Singapore has been one of the early (Asian) adopters and they still follow the same principles.

Thirteen years later and looking back at that article, what has changed?

The concept is still the same: identify and confirm potential positive and negative impacts to the surrounding environment, find the tolerance limits of the various habitats near the development site, model the various levels of impact, define the limits of the amount of sediment spill that various receptors (i.e. habitats, intakes and more) can tolerate over time, provide input about spill limits, vessel type and production and make sure that this is included in the contractor’s tender documents. Once construction starts, continuously monitor and provide daily feedback (7 days/week) for the duration of the works.

What has changed and improved is the turnaround time for reporting and response, the digitalisation of the system, refinement of calculations, improvements of near-field and far-field modelling and the development of online dashboard systems and data streaming where clients and contractors can view information. In terms of the understanding of habitats, so much more data (especially for tropical environments) have been collected over the past 15 or more years. This is terrific and shows that there is a much better understanding of and confidence in tolerance limits for, for example, mangroves, corals, seagrass and other flora and fauna.

Can you tell us about your present position at Aurecon? What you do there and what the company is specialized in?

Aurecon is a leading engineering, design and advisory company. Over the past 85 years, our team of more than 5,500 experts located in over 30 cities across the globe have collaborated with our clients and partners to reimagine, shape and engineer clever, innovative and sustainable solutions to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges. Recently, we have been named as Australasia’s Most Innovative Company by The Australian Financial Times.

Sustainability now comes in many forms, and as engineers and scientists, we have collective knowledge, data and expertise to make a positive difference to the communities we live in.

I joined Aurecon early 2020, and I am based in Aurecon’s Singapore office. In my role, I have been tasked to establish and lead Aurecon’s Coastal and Climate Change practice for Asia as well as their Advisory business.

Asia Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions for climate change and its impacts are projected to become more intense. Furthermore, there is an increasing number of governments and industries in Asia prioritising efforts to combat climate change; be it exploring ways to reduce emissions or investing in mitigation and adaptation initiatives.

Some examples are:

  • In Singapore, ~US$3.7b is being invested in coastal and flood protection efforts as 30% of Singapore is less than five metres above the mean sea level. The city-state is also investing in projects to generate power from renewable sources, such as microgrids, to help pave the way towards sustainable energy;
  • In Hong Kong, ~US$976m has been allocated to capital works for climate change, which includes a range of measures to ensure public infrastructure is climate ready; and
  • In Vietnam, climate change adaptation is crucial, especially for natural resourcedependent farmers, and the country is adapting infrastructure to focus on developing agricultural techniques and elevate houses above flood levels.

At Aurecon Asia, we have identified climate change and sustainability as a key growth area for our business. We work with organisations and governments to protect and build resilience and adaptation by responding to the risks and opportunities presented by sustainability and climate change. Leading a team of experts, we work with our clients to understand where they are on their journey, designing solutions that are backed by our engineering and advisory experience, technical and digital capabilities and design expertise.

We are strong believers that a better future is a world that works for all of humanity and the planet. As a company, we have made a commitment to become net zero as a business by 2025, to support the United Nations Global Compact and imbue with it our strategy, culture, day-to-day operations and our engagement in collaborative projects that advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As engineers, designers and advisors, we recognise and continue to play a vital role in helping the communities and economies in which we operate transition to a net zero carbon future.

For me, personally, I feel we are living in a tough yet exciting time. In our industry we have the opportunity to help our employees, our clients and our community transition to a climate resilient future, and this work will benefit the community and the greater good.

Stéphanie Groen

Photo courtesy of Aurecon

What is your involvement with dredging in your current role at Aurecon?

At the moment, I have little involvement with dredging in my role. However, we foresee a couple of upcoming design and build reclamation developments in both Singapore and Hong Kong, where Aurecon can support both clients and contractors. Hence this will come in due time.

Your work has been aimed at sustainability for many years now. Where does this interest in sustainability come from?

Sustainability is a topic close to my heart. I grew up with it (even though we never officially termed it that before). As a child growing up in the Netherlands, my family home was built on one of the ‘old dunes’ which is still part of an extraordinary 6-km-wide stretch of sand dunes facing the North Sea. Dunes have always been a natural form of coastal protection. The dune was an ever-changing landscape of endless opportunity and the perfect place to spend time outdoors while learning about biodiversity, coastal protection and drinking water management. To date, the natural filtration system of the sand dunes still provides the Amsterdam region with some of the best quality tap water in the country.

At home we ate mostly from the land. My mother has tended to her own organic vegetable garden since 1983. My father used to bake bread for the family and mum made us recycle biodegradable waste, batteries, paper as well as plastic. These are activities which I didn’t realise were very special until I went to grammar school and discovered it was kind of unique. Besides, the internet did not yet exist, so what did you do as a kid? You went outside, ran, cycled, went camping, got dirty, etc. But I have learnt from my childhood that whatever you do, do not litter, look after nature and make sure the only thing you leave behind is your footprints. I still have this mindset today.

Sustainability now comes in many forms, and as engineers and scientists, we have collective knowledge, data and expertise to make a positive difference to the communities we live in. Whatever we do and build is very tangible and based on factual data and information, not just on emotions or opinions. I believe we should always try to strike a balance between economic development and environmental preservation and/or sustainable development. With so much collective know-how, and having seen the benefits of Environmental Impact Assessments, Environmental Monitoring works and mitigation measures, there is sufficient proof that it is possible to have both.

You were recently appointed as a committee member to the 11-member FIDIC Sustainable Development Committee. Congratulations! How do you hope to contribute to the committee?

FIDIC has been active in the Sustainability space for some years. The recent appointment of new members in July 2020 has been exciting and will bring new global views to the table. The goal is to identify what the most pressing issue or topic is in the infrastructure and consultancy industry, and have an agile and proactive team available that can support FIDIC in taking a position and supporting the industry, both globally and regionally.

The committee has been formulating a plan for the coming year, to make sure topics are relevant and can be addressed as soon as possible. The current plan is to focus on three areas:

  1. Strategic partnerships and collaboration with other industry players on the topic of sustainability. FIDIC is also running other committees, so potential partnerships could be driven through various committees within FIDIC;
  2. State of the World reports. FIDIC will relaunch its State of the World reports as an annual series that will focus on a wider range of topics and be supported by webinars, social media and all of FIDIC's committees. These reports will also align to the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN to help industry and stakeholders meet the targets set by 2030; and
  3. FIDIC is actively participating in the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, and the committee is currently supporting the agenda for COP26 in 2021.

Has COVID-19 had any effect on FIDIC activities?

FIDIC’s role is to advise the industry and provide guidelines. With COVID-19, FIDIC has provided various suggestions and guidelines especially relating to the FIDIC STANDARD FORMS OF WORKS CONTRACT. COVID-19 is still viewed as a force majeure in many countries. Even as the industry is working on new projects and they are aware of the COVID-19 situation, no one can foresee other national or regional restrictions that will be imposed in the future. Hence, the industry is constantly looking for legal and contractual guidance in this matter, and this is where FIDIC plays a very important role.

What has FIDIC been doing until now on sustainable development? Does your appointment mean an increase in activities or a shift in focus?

FIDIC has previously focused on Project Sustainability, through the publication of management guidelines, logbooks and the ‘State of the World Report for Sustainable Infrastructure’ (2012). The latter describes what decisions can be made to support a sustainable future in terms of infrastructure development (roads, ports, railways, airports, water, wastewater, and power generation).

The current committee will continue to focus on sustainable infrastructure reporting, but we would also like to have the opportunity to address other topical issues, for example the agenda for COP26 and how FIDIC can best collaborate with other industry players to support the industry and make a greater impact.

In August 2020, The Guardian ran an article reporting that the world has failed to meet a single target of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets (2010) aimed to stop the destruction of nature. One of the problems mentioned is that half a trillion in government subsidies are directed at harmful activities in agriculture, fishing and fossil fuels. Do you see room for government collaboration to support sustainability in your industry and areas where presently this support is lacking?

It is important to note that even though we have a long way to go, it is not all doom and gloom. Six targets have partly been achieved and we also see some stability and improvements in numbers if you look at the recent statistics from the UN with respect to the SDG 13, 14 and 15. For example:

  • Whilst the total global forest area as a proportion of total land area reduced by 1.4% between 2000-2020 (in practical terms, this means a net loss of ~ 100 million ha of the world’s forests), globally certified forest, forests in protected areas, or forests under legislation and long-term management have remained stable or increased in the past 20 years; • The risk of extinction for global species (Red List Index) has in fact declined by 10% between 1990-2020;
  • Currently 24 million km2 or 17% of global waters under national jurisdiction are covered by protected areas. This doubled between 2010-2019; and
  • Further, global climate finance increased by 17% between 2013-2016 (US$ 584b – US$ 684b) and climate-related financial disclosures for corporations is now becoming the norm. (

The above topics are great examples of government initiatives especially with respect to the protection of terrestrial habitats (forests, nature reserves). However, protecting our oceans and life below water is more difficult to achieve and often crosses international boundaries and legislations. International government collaboration could be a solution but public-private partnerships may have a stronger impact on the sustainability agenda.

I firmly believe that the only way to make a difference is to address the issue at the source, but realistically the scale of these biodiversity issues is often huge. Think about how best to regulate the fishing industry, or the consumer plastic waste that is making its way into the ocean. Cleaning the ocean is a much-needed initiative, but governments can help greatly to solve the problem at the source.

Therefore public-private partnerships could be a great long-term solution as the corporate environment is naturally geared towards long-term views, long-terms plans, return on investment and overall business stability.

For example, the Tompkins Conservation ( has provided a couple of a fantastic examples of private investment in damaged state land affected by unsustainable agriculture. However, with time, support and re-introduction of native species, the land was turned back into its natural state and eventually given back to the state (Chile) and the people as protected natural parks. If governments could direct the half trillion in government subsidies to these types of coastal and marine infrastructure investments and partnerships instead, that would be a bold but brilliant move in the right direction.

I believe we should always try to strike a balance between economic development and environmental preservation and/or sustainable development.

What are specifically Asian sustainability concerns and challenges?

Managing de-carbonisation and reduction of overall CO₂ emissions

Furthermore, the understanding and implementation of local resource recovery principles (Circular Economy), which, if properly managed, will support local economies and the overall reduction in CO₂. If COVID-19 taught us one thing, it is that in times of a global crisis (a pandemic), the individualist mindset needs to change towards one harnessing the collective power and collaborative efforts of the community to keep the local economy running. In that respect, Europe and the USA can learn a thing or two from Asia! I hope the recent shift in increased local focus will help to leapfrog some of the barriers that have prevented countries to take steps towards resource recovery, emission reduction and subsequent decarbonization.

The production and use of plastic, managing plastic waste and recycling

Asia is unfortunately still behind in reducing plastic production and use, and this goes all the way down to households and personal habits. Further, the ineffective management of plastic waste is often the main reason why plastic ends up in the oceans. As mentioned earlier, addressing the source is most important with respect to reducing plastic waste, as large-scale plastic removal from the ocean is a huge challenge and will become an even greater challenge in the future, since plastic tends to break down in smaller parts (microplastics) and therefore becomes more difficult to detect and remove over time. Think about the fact that fishing lines take approximately 600 years to break down, plastic bottles about 450 years (see Our World in Data:

Understanding and managing climate risks

Physical climate risks and climate impacts differ per location and will require different adaptation options. The timeline for the implementation of these adaptation options is location specific. The economic, social and financial costs and benefits of physical protection and the value-add that sustainable developments and eco-shorelines could bring need to be taken into account if practically possible.

Stéphanie Groen

Photo courtesy of Aurecon

What do you see as your biggest challenge both personally and in terms of sustainability?

My personal challenge will be balancing work and life, continuing to enjoy what I do, staying healthy both mentally and physically, staying fit, keeping up to date with the things that I am passionate about and staying optimistic. There is still so much to learn. Fortunately we live in a time where life-long learning is possible for everyone. I am sure I will never get tired of exploring and learning new things.

To continue as an individual to make a difference to sustainability will result from being critical, asking the hard questions and staying involved in, for example, the World Cities Young Leaders network with the Singapore Centre of Liveable Cities, supporting FIDIC, supporting start-up companies in the sustainability space, and continuing to look for opportunities to support sustainability efforts. For example, these can be speaking opportunities that help to share why sustainability is important to the industry and the community.

Do you have a message for the dredging sector?

What about rebranding the dredging sector, and focus on sustainability and digitalisation? The sector is very niche and not well understood. What is great about it, is that dredging and reclamation works are often the building blocks of new major infrastructure developments. This should not be taken for granted. In addition, land reclamation has a design life of (hopefully) more than 100 years; if the effects of climate change are taken into account. This is in fact a very long-term way of working especially when compared to other industries. This is also the reason why the design phase of new marine works is extremely important as it has to be sustainable for the next century.

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