Sustainability Means Only Doing the Right Things
In infrastructure development, we live in the world of investment projects. That’s because the traditional approach to solving a capacity problem is simply to build more capacity.
There are several factors guiding us in this direction. For politicians, it is important to acquire investments in their own election district. For authorities, investments are crucial to keep the organizations busy. For consultants and contractors, investments mean steady workload and opportunity to grow.
But, we are constantly consuming more than our globe can stand. In 2014, natural resources available for the year were already consumed by mid-August, according to the Global Footprint Network.
What’s more, a World Energy Resources survey found that the growth in world energy consumption has been higher than anticipated even in the high growth scenarios, and global primary energy demand could still increase by 50% by the middle of the century.
In order to survive, we have to change our ways of working and step out from this build-more-of-the-same mode. We must think more, anticipate the changes in the world, consider carefully our choices, and create solutions that consume less.
Take the capacity problem we discussed earlier. Instead of building more capacity on a transport link, for example, what if you took the end-user perspective to the issue, and started looking out for a wider scope of solutions to the problem?
Can you affect the demand with online traffic management, real time guidance, pricing, or by affecting modal split? Will the changing working patterns, new commuting patterns, or other behavioral changes of commuters improve the situation, and how could you affect the desired changes? What could be the role of spatial big data that is available in real time?
Can you encourage car sharing, other means of more efficient use of fleet, or stimulate new services that change the situation? With private car in Finland only being used an average 17,000 km per year, or 4% of its available time, there is vast possibility to improve the use of fixed assets in this corner.
In most cases, using this approach leads to much more cost-efficient and sustainable solutions than traditional investments to the physical infrastructure. Planning and thinking are the core skills of engineering consultants, so we have the capacity to follow this path.
But, as engineers, we cannot do this alone. We have to include new skills and expertise – like behavioral and social sciences specialists, spatial and city planners, ICT specialists, industrial designers, economists – and build up multi-disciplinary teams that communicate with all stakeholders around the problem.
Yes, I believe we can change our approach – but what about the politicians and authorities? We need them to place more resources and emphasis on advance planning, thinking, and efficient, innovative problem solving. The real challenge is to turn their thinking, which can best be done by highlighting the crucial impact of good planning to the sustainability of our future.
Sustainability means doing only the right things. And the consulting industry has vast impact on what our world will be in the future. The sustainable future of the world is at our drawing boards – it’s time we start creating it.