Trend 3: Sustainability – in all its forms – rises up the agenda

Trend 3: Sustainability rises up the agenda

‘Sustainability’ is a much broader concept than the environment.

Aerial view of bridge over sea

If we want our infrastructure assets to create long-term value and enhance social harmony, we need to think much more about sustainability.

Unfortunately, today’s view of sustainability is far too narrow. Raise the issue and most people instinctively think about the environment. But the reality is that ‘sustainability’ is a much wider concept. And addressing it will mean going beyond the pure engineering and costing aspects of a project to also consider long-term viability and resilience.

That is why infrastructure planners, owners and designers are now beginning to take a broader view of sustainability that includes a wider range of requirements such as:

  • financial sustainability (ensuring that financial structures are relevant and appropriate)
  • operational sustainability (whether assets have the right technologies and efficiencies to optimize performance)
  • funding sustainability (whether future cash flows are durable)
  • technological sustainability (considering the viability and potential obsolescence of the base technology)
  • social sustainability (ensuring that benefits are cascaded to all levels of society).

Given the competing forces now at work around the world (see Trend 1), the need for sustainability in all its forms is more critical than ever – not only for users and planners, but also for investors and owners. Responses must be thoughtful and rapid.

As we noted in last year’s edition of Emerging Trends, investors are increasingly sensitive to social and environmental impacts – not just financial returns. And a growing number of today’s investors are looking for assets that have taken a much more sophisticated view of sustainability as a way to safeguard their investments and retain their value.  

For infrastructure planners and designers, this requires a more holistic approach to asset design and development. Authorities are obliged to create more flexible space for innovation – in contracting, in funding and financing models, in technological adoption and adaptation, in construction approaches and materials, and in design and usage.

At the same time, new skills will be required as more time is spent scenario planning (as noted in Trend 2). And those responsible for our infrastructure will need to improve the way they measure and assess their development and construction metrics. 

This year, we expect to see infrastructure planners, owners and developers start to take a much more robust approach to assessing and improving the sustainability of their projects and – in doing so – create much more value from their investments.

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