• Stephen Beatty, Leadership |

For far too long, the world has approached climate change without a credible and cohesive plan to protect the planet.

And while the consensus is that we’ll all be much better off once we tackle the climate crisis, the planning and actions that must be taken to create a sustainable future have often been ignored. Sustainability needs to include innovation, and infrastructure planning around the globe can play a critical role to help tackle this pressing challenge.

The time for talk without action is over. Improving how infrastructure is designed, built, and maintained is a big part of creating sustainable solutions.

The KPMG emerging trends in infrastructure report identifies topics that KPMG professionals believe will shape infrastructure in the short-term and into the future. In the 11 years of publication, it’s become increasingly clear that issues affecting infrastructure often impact the planet, too. In a time of conflict, rising cost of living and an urgent need to address global warming, the world needs to come together and work toward a common goal of sustainability.

Searching for the “perfect” solution and overcoming obstacles

A gap has formed between what the world has committed to do (e.g. the Paris Agreement) and what in fact the world will be able to do. Pursuing the so-called “perfect” way to face climate change has become a hindrance to making progress.

Too much time has been wasted discussing the 50-year horizon, when there are steps that can be taken now:

  1. Technology as a tool, not a solution: Technology is an important enabler of sustainability, but it’s not going to solve the world’s problems by 2030. Advancements in technology, combined with behavioral changes, are needed to ensure the planet has a healthy future. Technological change without behavioral change is not enough.
  2. Shift in supply chains: Supply chains are generally opaque, which has proven more problematic due to supply chain issues through the pandemic and recent conflict. Reducing supply chain risk requires increasing the level of transparency.
  3. Governments must act: Governments generally use a consensus approach to decision making — which is not known for being speedy. While this works for certain longer-term decisions, when the health of the planet is at increasing risk, action needs to be swifter and more decisive.
  4. Disrupt the status quo: Mindset is a barrier to embracing change, and an old mindset can stunt innovation and create further roadblocks to sustainability. Leaders should engage with a diverse set of stakeholders to explore new ways to overcome obstacles.

In the spirit of embracing a mindset shift, below are a few infrastructure trends likely to gain prominence throughout 2023 and in the years to come.

Making the most of data and digital capabilities

The infrastructure sector often falls short when it comes to having strong data-gathering practices and using new technologies — in part because brownfield infrastructure is difficult to digitize and getting quality data can be a challenge.

For brownfield owners, optimizing existing assets can be limited by regulatory constraints that were in place when the asset was planned and designed. However, there are still opportunities to improve asset management through data analytics tools and taking advantage of technologies such as smart meters. In 2023 and beyond, KPMG professionals expect to see pressure on contractors and developers to up their digital game and drive value from data.

From mass production to mass customization

Infrastructure has typically been about building “one-stop-shops” where people go to receive a range of services (hospitals, schools etc.). This approach is showing signs of redundancy or a challenge to productivity and is increasingly likely to be replaced with customized solutions for people’s unique needs and conditions. Inclusive and more accessible infrastructure can help those who may have not been well served by the old ways of doing things.

Private players are driving much of these moves toward customization. As a result, this year infrastructure players and governments can be expected to try to catch up by focusing more on what they deliver in addition to how they deliver it — for instance, by creating customized services and solutions to help meet the needs of citizens rather than continuing to build more one-stop-shops.

Taking smart action

In times of recession and high inflation there’s often talk of doing more with less. Instead of focusing on how to cut back, the world should be looking at how to do things smarter — and to enable this, technology inevitably plays a large role.

KPMG’s Net Zero Urban Program aims to enable smart action by unlocking city-based technological solutions to help contribute to sustainability worldwide. The program aims to reach 10,000 cities, scale up 100 prototype digital solutions and raise US$25 billion in capital by 2030.

The program uses digital twins to create a visual data layer on 3D urban environment models to help map intensity and scale. Digital twins can help cities make better decisions during the planning stage to analyze challenges, identify opportunities and help provide better outcomes for both people and nature. In a time when the appeal of cities is shifting, people’s expectations have changed, and cities have some catching up to do.

Cities of the future

Cities are struggling to attract new residents. Utilizing new technologies and ideas that leverage data can help determine how life can be made better for citizens as we move into the future.

As the infrastructure sector faces new challenges and opportunities, the sector must take sustainable action and embrace multifaceted solutions that make cities attractive to residents, while helping protect the planet.