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Why sustainable development and infrastructure should be at the core of global society

Alban Forster Infrastructure Sector Leader - Europe
Alban Forster

Alban has 30 years professional experience in the field of commercial, technical and environmental due diligence, across the waste and energy sectors. His specialist areas include; business planning and market analysis, strategy development and policy review strategic plan development, procurement support and operational service reviews. He has worked on transactional due diligence studies for banks; assessing the feasibility of numerous infrastructure assets, biomass and waste to energy schemes, business viability and environmental risk.

Why sustainable development and infrastructure should be at the core of global society

As the UN Sustainable Development goals aspire to deliver the ‘development of quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure’, it is evident that on a global level, there is an imperative to react now to future-proof our cities and regions.

Equally, as countries around the world are setting individual targets in this area, such as the UK’s Net Zero 2050 Target, we are seeing a rapid shift in customer preferences and investor sentiment. This momentum is driving increased investment into Sustainable Development and Infrastructure (SDI) solutions across both the public and private sectors.

What is sustainable development and infrastructure (SDI)?

Sustainable infrastructure involves developing roads, buildings, energy, water, and waste infrastructure with due consideration for economic implications, as well as for ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) factors.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) defines sustainable infrastructure assets as those which:

  • Lower carbon and environmental footprints
  • Protect natural ecosystems
  • Prove resilient to changing climates
  • Optimise the use of natural ecosystems and their “infrastructure services”
  • Move beyond compliance on core labour standards and human rights
  • Trigger technological and industrial innovation
  • Increase investment in education and research and development (R&D)
  • Increase employment
  • Demonstrate financial viability 
  • Crowd-in domestic investors and businesses
  • Increase foreign direct investment
  • Bring value for money for taxpayers and investors

There are many different sectors that can and should apply sustainable thinking as a core principle in their development and delivery, including:

  • For transportation (bus, rapid transport, roads, rail, maritime) there are opportunities for low carbon transport and sustainable mobility.
  • Decentralised solutions offer opportunities for the power sector, along with many more sustainable options including wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, tidal/wave, and hydrogen.
  • For the water sector, water supply, irrigation, wastewater treatment, flood risk, SuDS, wetlands, water quality can all be a focus.
  • For the waste sector, Energy from Waste is a clear option for sustainable thinking.
  • The buildings sector can apply sustainable thinking through urban development policies and improved energy efficiency requirements, amongst others.
  • Nature Based Infrastructure is another area of opportunity for Natural Capital solutions, including lakes, wetlands, reservoirs, woodlands, and open space.
  • Materials management should be considering the Circular Economy, and improved recycling and design.
  • There is also significant scope for the Green Economy and Green Finance.

From the list above it is clear that SDI should increasingly pervade all aspects of the built environment and infrastructure. It is at the core of how we live and grow as a global society.  

What are the advantages of sustainable infrastructure?

In short, delivery of SDI creates a better, more efficient, more integrated, and inclusive, world. Some specific examples of the advantages are set out below, but it is by no means an exhaustive list:  

  • Reducing carbon and environmental footprints – for example through intelligent urban masterplanning, introducing sustainable transport systems, and the use of lower carbon building materials.   
  • Protecting our natural ecosystems – by ensuring species protection and enhancement is at the heart of our cities.
  • Improving resilience to changing climates – through the development of an integrated network of blue-green energy infrastructure, and flood-risk and coastal protection measures.
  • Moving beyond compliance on core labour standards and human rights – through application of ESG (environment, social, governance) screening influencing investment decisions.

A key feature of SDI is the integration of economic, environmental, and social thinking to ensure delivery of our roads, railways, energy, cities, and natural environment can co-exist now and long into the future. 

What do businesses need to do?

Sustainable infrastructure solutions are no longer a source of competitive advantage and those who ‘lag’ will cease to exist. SLR has for many years worked collaboratively with other stakeholders to deliver SDI thinking for our clients, from sustainable transport, to tourism masterplanning, to green finance. We’re always happy to discuss a project – please get in touch to find out more.

Want to know more?

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss a project, our team would be happy to hear from you. Find out more