As a founding partner for the International Coalition of Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), we are pleased to share that ICSI will be co-hosting the webinar series: Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principle into Practice. The series aims to create a connected community of sustainable infrastructure practitioners and experts, and to share state-of-the-art tools and knowledge on planning and building sustainable infrastructure. We spoke to Dr Elizabeth Losos, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, about the series.
The need for this webinar series is urgent. In 2020, as cities around the globe ground to a halt and life in a pandemic became the new norm, many people started to imagine what a post-COVID future would, or should, look like. The message of ‘build back better’ became one that was used across political rhetoric, climate activism and corporate campaigns.
Building back better means different things to different people, but visions of a greener, safer, more socially just and economically robust future have been dangled like carrots across media platforms by world leaders, grassroots campaigners, and multilaterals alike. With infrastructure at the heart of ‘building back’, it becomes essential to consider what ‘better’ infrastructure really looks like and how new infrastructure projects can be rooted in sustainability and systems change from the get-go.
Building a community of practice
The Sustainable Infrastructure Community of Learners (SI-CoL) was founded in 2020 to tackle these kinds of questions. Convened by the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, Duke University, UNEP and others, the mission of the group is ‘to share information, experiences, and resources globally… to improve approaches, outcomes, and uptake of Sustainable Infrastructure capacity development.’
This year, the SI-CoL is hosting the webinar series, Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principles into Practice, bringing together over 200 engineers, architects, scientists, economists and students from around the world to discuss topics such as strategic planning, environmental assessments, climate resilience, participatory decision-marking, equity, circularity, and systems planning. The series is organised around UNEP’s International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure.
ICSI becomes partner host
SI-CoL’s collaborative and inclusive approach to building a community of practice is one that resonates strongly with ICSI’s own values, and we are pleased to announce that ICSI has become a partner host for the webinar series. Our shared vision recognises the urgent need for sustainability and resilience to be embedded throughout the infrastructure lifecycle, and our current work on Infrastructure Pathways speaks directly to this.
Dr Elizabeth Losos, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, spoke to us about the webinar series, its goals, and the inspiration behind it. With a background in tropical forest ecology, as well as environmental policy and international affairs, Elizabeth has spent her career working at the nexus of science and policy.
How did your background lead to your involvement in sustainable infrastructure?
EL: Working for decades in tropical regions across the globe, I have personally witnessed the pent-up demand for infrastructure to improve people’s lives. But not just any infrastructure will achieve this. I have seen how unplanned and poorly built infrastructure projects can be devastating and leave a lasting impact that is felt for decades.
In the Amazon, for example, I saw the construction of frontier roads that have led to rampant forest destruction and illegal gold mining, ultimately polluting waterways, destroying local livelihoods, igniting uncontainable forest fires, and setting off spiralling deforestation. Even when environmental assessments were carried out, they were too little and too late to produce viable alternative routes. So, after completing a dozen years at the helm of the Organization for Tropical Studies a few years ago, I turned my attention to trying to improve the adoption of best practices for creating sustainable infrastructure.
What do you see as the most pressing issue for the Sustainable Infrastructure community of practice?
EL: The recent global attention to sustainable infrastructure is exciting and encouraging. There is a multitude of new tools, standards, guidelines, and models. But this enormous proliferation of resources also creates a barrier to sustainable infrastructure adoption. It is too confusing! Even the definition of ‘sustainable infrastructure’ is unclear to many. As a result, even those that want to finance, build, or regulate sustainable infrastructure are often deterred. By joining together, I believe that Sustainable Infrastructure community of practice can successfully address this issue by contributing to better standardisation, harmonisation, and dissemination of sustainable infrastructure guidelines and resources.
What would be your ultimate outcome from the webinar series?
EL: To address the barrier described above. Our webinar series aims to build a broad understanding of sustainable infrastructure tools, standards, and good practices among those creating the next generation of infrastructure. Specialists will share their knowledge with practitioners; practitioners will also share their experiences with each other and provide feedback to specialists. Ultimately, we hope to create a vibrant community of practice that will continue to interact and collaboratively learn from each other even after the series has ended.
How do you envision the SI-CoL influencing the Sustainable Infrastructure community?
EL: We hope that the SI-CoL in general, and particularly through this webinar series, will serve to bring into focus the urgent need to quickly scale up capacity building and good practice adoption. With the tsunami of new infrastructure investments just over the horizon, we have little time to ensure that those financing, regulating, planning, and building are equipped to make the most appropriate and sustainable decisions. The pathways they pick will affect us for decades to come.
The programme can be found at this link together with recordings of the previous sessions.