Infrastructure, Infra-tech & the Sustainable Development Goals

 
 

Infrastructure, Infra-tech & the Sustainable Development Goals


It’s no secret that the world is facing an increasing number of inter-linked problems. From social issues surrounding how to feed a growing population, or what must be done to supply power to the millions without it, to environmental matters including the degradation of the oceans and destruction of natural habits, our planet is rife with problems that need an answer.

The solutions to these problems fall under the banner of sustainable development, and as a result, all United Nations member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 which act as an urgent call for action by all countries, organisations and individuals.

For businesses the value of SDGs is starting to be realised with many turning development obstacles into opportunities. This is highlighted by the increasing use of SDGs to drive investment decisions by both corporates and investors, as well as a way of measuring business and investment performance.

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“Better Business Better World”, estimated that SDGs had the potential to open 60 market “hot spots” worth $12 trillion by 2030 in business savings and revenue, and that the total economic prize from implementing them could be worth 2 to 3 times larger.

The Business Sustainable Development Commission’s report

The UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that meeting the SDGs will require between $5 and $7 trillion in investment each year between 2015 and 2030. With the resources of governments and international organisations constrained, there’s an estimated funding gap of up to $6 trillion annually for private capital to fill [according to JP Morgan research, demand for impact investment strategies could reach $1 trillion by 2020].

When we think about the multiple environmental and social challenges - from climate change and dangerous air pollution levels to lack of housing and food shortages - the causation can be pinpointed to two issues: our choice of infrastructure and its design. Our existing infrastructure, particularly the domains of energy, the built-environment, transport, and agriculture, were designed in a different age when there was a different understanding of human impact on the environment, and an extremely different set of social and economic parameters. From large centralised fossil-fuel burning power plants to our built-environment, the current infrastructures that are interwoven with our daily lives are outdated; they were designed with the technology that was available at the time, in particular economic circumstances, and in the regulatory and institutional set-up of the time. In a nutshell, it doesn’t reflect our intentions to address the SDGs.

We now live in a different age with much expanded technical capabilities, as well as expanded knowledge and consideration of environmental and social impacts of our choices around infrastructure. To achieve the ambitious but essential SDGs, we need to both improve the quality of infrastructure investment to make it more in line with the goals, and increase the rate of investment. And so, given the long life of infrastructure investments, we need to be making different choices that result in smarter, more resilient, greener, higher performing infrastructure. The combination of technology and infrastructure (known as “Infra-tech”) gives us the ability to make these choices.

“Infra-tech” has been described as “the deployment or integration of digital technologies with physical infrastructure to deliver efficient, connected, resilient and agile assets. This combination of physical and digital infrastructure designs and produces assets that respond intelligently, or informs to direct their own maintenance, use and delivery. These assets may also be automated and responsive to real-time historic data. This produces benefits not only for the developer / operator, but also to the end-user in terms of efficiency, productivity and a better overall experience”.

Whilst infra-tech applications can be found across many sectors, those that are of the most interest are;

• Energy generation and distribution

• Built environment

• Transport

• Water [and waste]

• Agriculture

• Resource extraction and use

• Communications

• Health and well-being

• Life safety systems

With its links to SDGs, Infra-tech is a promising space for investment as a way of supporting both financial and non-financial (i.e. aiding the development of sustainable energy solutions or affordable modular housing) strategies. It encourages the development of organisations that are looking for more than a profit; instead they are working towards building a positive future with progressive actions designed to meet the current landscape we live in.

The subject of Infra-tech and its involvement in a wide-range of sectors is, of course, a detailed one. To understand more about the potential infra-tech holds and the sectors it connects with, we will be exploring it in further detail in subsequent blogs.

 
 
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