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September 25, 2017

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Sustainable & Climate Resilient Infrastructure: A $90 Trillion Opportunity

 

The recent catastrophic flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and the US has brought the topic of climate resilience into sharp relief this month. The challenges that residents of Houston could face in the coming weeks - contaminated floodwaters and crippled infrastructure leading to outbreaks of infectious disease and loss of livelihoods & lives - are all too familiar to developing nations. At the time of publishing Hurricane Irma was just making landfall in Florida heading directly for St Petersberg and Tampa. In the case of Houston, the flooding has been exacerbated by historically poor urban planning and design. Experts have long warned of the city’s lack of climate preparedness and the dangers of perpetuating a unregulated concrete jungle without factoring in the impact of extreme weather events. 

 

Encouragingly, Houston like many cities in the US, has taken an affirmative and leading approach to the green cities initiative, signing up to the ‘we are still in” campaign following the current administration’s decision to withdraw from the COP 21 Paris Agreement and clearly establishing a range of engaging progressive programs such as, solar/renewables, air quality monitoring and greenspace development. However the problem lies below the surface, in that the underlying infrastructure of the city was installed without any long term or integrated planning. There is simply too much contiguous concrete & asphalt in an area that historically has poor drainage and is prone to annual flooding.

 

Planning the built environment in an integrated way that combines sustainable design with climate resilience whilst supporting economic prosperity is a complex problem. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI)[1], a 7 year old nonprofit based in DC, has taken a leading role in helping stakeholders measure and manage this process. In collaboration with the Zofnass program at Harvard, the ISI, have developed Envision, a ratings software tool that evaluates projects based on sustainability and impact on the environment, community and economy. 

 

The intention is that Envision will do for infrastructure what LEED has done for sustainability in construction: provide a means to improve and quantify sustainability in infrastructure, and facilitate the adoption of sustainable design throughout the project life cycle whilst informing citizens and increasing public awareness. Envision is rapidly becoming the industry standard for sustainable infrastructure and the ISI now counts thousands of individual practitioners, government agencies, companies, and other organizations as members. Encouragingly, major global developments such as airports and major city wastewater treatment works are now targeting verification using ISI’s Envision rating system in accordance with the IFC’s requirement for environmental and Social Impact Assessment Studies. 

 

The ISI are taking Envision to scale under the leadership of John Stanton, formerly EVP Policy & Markets at SolarCity, who was appointed as CEO in January this year following the retirement of his predecessor. John’s career has been dedicated to the service of reducing human impact on the environment including waste, clean water, renewable energy, clean air and wetlands. John is a highly accomplished executive who has a demonstrated track record of taking promising small organizations and growing them into large successful ones. At Sustainable Means we are proud to have partnered with the ISI to help them appoint a new leader who can take the organisation forward to its next level of impact

 

The work of the organisations such as ISI will be vital if the development of sustainable transport, energy, water and waste networks is to be achieved.[2] Global demand for new infrastructure could exceed $90 trillion by 2030 or almost twice the value of the planet’s existing facilities, networks and public capital equipment. As a recent Mckinsey study puts it “we will literally be rebuilding our world over the next 15 years,” and this represents a massive entrepreneurial opportunity for infrastructure firms, solution providers and investors.  

 

It can be argued that institutional investors, asset managers and insurance companies have woken up to the very real risks of climate change and the opportunities of sustainable development more quickly than many governments. Supported by big data and fintech innovation, ESG is becoming a standard factor in investment decision frameworks. This is why ESG focused advisory & technology firms are rapidly scaling and blue chip asset managers such as Blackrock and Goldman Sachs are steadily acquiring specialist sustainability talent.

 

Executed poorly, infrastructure development is a large part of the problem and compounds the severity of events like Houston’s flood devastation post-Harvey. However, future infrastructure investment could also be a major part of the solution, contributing to, and intimately linking, both environmental protection and economic prosperity.

 

[1] The ISI was founded by founded by The American Public Works Association, American Society of Civil Engineers and American Council of Engineering Companies in order to to promote sustainable infrastructure.

[2] In line with the Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the international community.

 

 

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