Ainsley Simpson

Chief Executive Officer | Infrastructure Sustainability Council

  • Change agent
  • Future focused
  • Sustainability advocate
Based in: NSW
Modes: Road Rail Aviation Trams Ferries Maritime Busses Freight/logistics
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"There is an important nexus across the infrastructure network of systems – we can’t just look at transport or energy or water – it needs to be highly integrated and connected … we are stronger together."

Current Positions

  • Chief Executive Officer, Infrastructure Sustainability Council
  • Member, Infrastructure Standards Committee, GRESB
  • Board Director, Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council

Previous Positions

  • Manager: Business and Technical Services, Infrastructure Sustainability Council
  • Chief Operating Officer, Pacific Environment Limited
  • Business Development Manager, Coffey International Limited
  • Research Manager, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
  • Sustainability Business Development Coordinator, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney
  • Chief Operating Officer, Strategic Environmental Focus
  • Member, Advisory Board, Supply Chain Sustainability School of Australia

Career snapshot

Ainsley Simpson is a leader in sustainability having worked across public and private sectors including ASX-listed companies, currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council. The Council is a purpose-led Not-for-Profit that measures what matters using the IS Rating Scheme to ensure all infrastructure delivers social, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits. 

She is a Director of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and a member of the GRESB Infrastructure Standards Committee. A champion for climate action, Ainsley has led multiple industry collaborations and partnerships which advocate for a resilient, inclusive transition; including convening a new national infrastructure initiative spanning government, business, and industry peak bodies; Infrastructure Net Zero.

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In her own words

After completing my Bachelor of Science degree and Honours in Sustainable Resource Use, I continued with intention toward what I had strongly believe was my being long-term profession, being a teacher. During my initial immersion period, I was brave and bold enough to acknowledge secondary school teaching was not my vocation, I needed to be creating change in a different way. I made an extremely big decision at that point in my life to pursue a different career path and applied for a role at an environmental consulting company, where I spent the first 10 years of my career, and it was a marvellous and remarkable chapter.

I joined the consultancy as their first technical employee rising to their Chief Operating Officer. The business grew to be one of the largest independent consultancies and was powered by an incredible team of almost 100 people, working in all the major provinces across South Africa and other countries in Africa. 

It was fortuitous that a lot of the impact regulations in South Africa had been based on Australian principles so when I migrated I had some familiarity with the system. Although, I didn’t transition straight into the environmental sector when I arrived. Instead, I decided that it was a once in an opportunity to explore completely different roles. I love people, plants, and property, so I obtained real estate qualifications and started working in commercial and industrial property. Having arrived in Australia in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (2008) choosing to change career trajectories was definitely character building!  But the impact of the work wasn’t ‘fuelling my jets’ so I explored opportunities relating to my other passions. Next, I did a short stint working in human resources in the horticultural sector before moving back to positions which more strongly aligned with my values.

At this point in my career journey, I wanted to focus on creating positive change and sustainability was a natural home. I joined the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in a role centred on increasing industry engagement and later the operational management of the research program driving practical and positive change. I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in areas I was technically passionate about as well as building relationships across the university and industry partners.

While at ISF, I had a short, serendipitous interaction with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (then called the Australian Green Infrastructure Council), as a research team was drafting one of the chapters of the Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme technical manual.

I joined the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) in 2016 and it has been glorious. I love the transformational work we enable, the passionate professionals in the sector we work with daily, and leading a team of people that strives for goals that are bigger than we can individually achieve on our own.

Meeting people where they are 

When I joined the Council in 2016, the conversation around sustainability and infrastructure centred on – ‘why is this important and what is the business case?’ Most people we engaged with thought only about the environmental components of sustainability; there wasn’t a strong focus on social aspects and little attention to governance. 

Since then, the conversation has shifted dramatically, and we start with the question – ‘when is this work right for you?’ Sustainability is a journey, and everyone is at a different point and travelling at their own pace. It’s about meeting people where they are. Nations, organisations, and individuals now have a sense of urgency, but don’t always know how to match ambition with their approach to sustainability challenges. 

More recently, the change in thinking has accelerated, the momentum is extraordinary; it’s a unique time to be in infrastructure and an even better time to be in sustainability.  There are multiple drivers at play, including investor scrutiny. When the money moves the market moves and from a global perspective there is a big investor focus on ESG as a screening criterion. There is also a rising level of collective awareness about just how critical change is around key aspects including net zero and biodiversity loss and we have an emerging workforce with deep connection with the sustainability profession because they have an inherent social consciousness. The next generation joining our workforce are interviewing us as employers and evaluating, with intent and excitement, their ability to make a long-term impact in a role. 

In Australia, we have historically had a very impressive investment in transport with the forward estimates to 2025 committed to major projects in rail and some roads; after that there is a major shift to energy. There is an important nexus across infrastructure; a network of systems – we can’t just look at transport or energy or water – planning, investment and delivery needs to be highly integrated and connected. We are tackling huge global and complex local challenges and we can’t do it in isolation. We are stronger together. 

Better than before

One of the most valuable and enduring pieces of advice I received as I entered high school was: ‘be yourself, no one can tell you that you are doing it wrong’. It’s wise advice which we could all benefit from earlier and more often in our lives. Comparison is the thief of joy. In trying times, that pesky voice of comparison says you should be doing that or you should be doing this; I work on staying grounded by that advice and don’t should on myself. 

I would advise people, particularly young women, to consider carefully when to be vulnerable and who you are vulnerable with. Yes - it can be empowering but there is a time and there is trust.  While this advice is trending, adopt it wisely and with considerable fore thought. 

Some other useful advice is invest in yourself because better never stops. I genuinely believe you must always be sharpening your saw. Being extremely clear on what your values are and what is important to you is as good as a compass. Any time you are finding it hard to make a decision, if you reflect on your values, you will instantly know what is the next right move for you.

Perfection is impractical - chose progress over perfection. Most of us, particularly women, are encouraged to strive for perfection but what a waste of effort - just be better than you were the day before.

My vision for the next five 5 years…

…is transport infrastructure is integrated, connected and inclusive - from an asset, industry, and impact perspective.

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