Amid extreme weather, infrastructure needs sustainability

Hurricane Sandy, the super storm that ravaged parts of the East Coast in September, has brought to light the dismal state of bridges, roads and buildings in the United States. As scientists predict these severe weather patterns are set to occur more frequently, the need for sustainable infrastructure has become a matter of urgency, crucial to economic growth and quality of life around the world.

But erecting structures that can withstand hard knocks for years to come takes money, and lots of it. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), $53 trillion will be needed in infrastructure development around the world over the next few decades.

Experts agree that what’s needed is a more holistic approach towards project implementation and funding. Planners need to look beyond the economic benefits of a project and consider too the social and environmental benefits it might bring.

Sustainable infrastructure means finding what’s “viable, bearable and equitable” for community members and cities, said Lisa Rephlo, the principal of energy conservation and management of MWH Global, during a recent GreenBiz webcast about new tools to assess sustainable infrastructure.

“We’re considering all the project’s benefits across the portfolio in a total benefit return,” said Rephlo, who uses this integrated approach with her clients. By looking at the social, environmental and economic benefits, your total benefits are “higher than just looking at the economics approach,” she said. 

This holistic approach enables planners to better communicate how the project will translate to the community on a number of different levels, as well as help address specific stakeholder concerns. The ability to demonstrate an array of benefits also opens up more funding channels, said Rephlo, allowing planners to take advantage of outside funding from sustainability groups and other investors.

Funding: Entry of Impact Capital

Gone are the days when planners could rely on government funds to back their infrastructure project, said John Williams, chairman and CEO of Impact Infrastructure, during the webcast.

“The trend seems to be accelerating away from dependence on government,” Williams said.

Photo of bridge with airplane overhead provided by fuyu liu/Shutterstock

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