WSP USA Playing Leadership Role in Global Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative

The International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure seeks to involve engineers and other infrastructure professionals in the search for practical solutions to address climate mitigation and adaptation.

A new global initiative is bringing engineers to the forefront of the conversation about sustainability, resiliency and climate change impacts on infrastructure and the communities they serve.

WSP is a founding member of the recently launched International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), together with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the ASCE Foundation, The Resilience Shift (a global initiative to accelerate resilience among engineering sectors funded by Lloyds Register Foundation of London) and the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) for Climate & Energy.

The purpose of the coalition is to address the urgent need to accelerate planning, design, construction and operation of sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Two key differentiators of the growing network of organizations will be its action orientation – not just studies, technology transfer and events – and its objective to bring more engineers into leadership and facilitation roles, as individuals as well as organizations, on the issues of infrastructure sustainability, resilience and climate change mitigation.

“The idea is that the coalition is a distinct entity; not a rigid organization with structured membership, but flexible enough to expand and grow and include many key players and organizations from different sectors focused on sustainability and resiliency,” said Tom Lewis, WSP president of Federal Programs and Logistics, a licensed professional engineer, and a founding organizer of the Coalition. “Engineers should not be standing on the sidelines, so this is a way to make sure their voice and perspective is heard.”

The coalition aims to advance practical solutions to design and construct sustainable infrastructure, adapt infrastructure to a changing climate, create partnerships across sectors and with other industry groups such as the global Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) based in the U.K. — with leaders from WSP playing a key role there as well — close the investment gap, break down barriers to action across the globe and bring action-oriented solutions to the marketplace.

“There are a lot of climate-focused organizations talking about data and policy,” Lewis said. “This is about taking that data and planning and appropriately applying it to fund and construct projects in a better way.”

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©WSP USA

Tom Lewis, a founding organizer of the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure, was among the signers of the group’s charter at its inaugural meeting last fall.

Coalition for Change

On April 15, ICSI hosted its 2020 Action Summit Plenary to update members on the progress of the initiative and establish the next steps for individuals and member organizations. Originally scheduled to be held at Stanford University, the summit was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a global crisis that presents new and immediate needs that necessitate accelerated change and action, including approaches and attitudes toward infrastructure and the economy.

“This is a unique time for the infrastructure community,” said Heather Unger, senior sustainability consultant and Future ReadyTM program director for WSP USA. “As evident by the most recent ASCE Infrastructure Scorecard, our infrastructure is in poor condition. Governments are looking to invest in infrastructure as we restart the economy. We need to think long-term and ensure that the right projects are selected, and that they are designed to be sustainable and resilient.

Unger, who was also a participant in the launch of ISCI in November and in the April summit, was recently tapped as the inaugural program manager for the international organization.

Lewis opened the virtual summit by providing an overview of the coalition’s vision and purpose. He also emphasized the need for practical solutions and he urged engineers to step forward as a catalyst for action. He highlighted how engineers have the expertise to develop and implement practical solutions to complex challenges. The coalition aims to bring engineers together as change agents to combat climate change globally.

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©WSP USA

Tom Lewis (third from right) addresses engineering leaders at the launch of the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure in November.

Taking Action

The Coalition has identified four “action tracks” that it considers essential elements for a sustainable infrastructure program to succeed. Team leads and members have been established to focus on each area:

  • Funding and financing, to provide technical support that enables the GCoM for Climate and Energy’s City Climate Finance Gap Fund to finance sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
  • Guidance, tools and standards, to provide clear and coordinated guidance and standards to plan, develop and assess sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Reduce fragmentation across the value chain.
  • Innovation, to accelerate innovative ideas that improve sustainable design/performance and resiliency of infrastructure, change the paradigm for project scoping and funding, and demonstrate why sustainable and resilient infrastructure outperforms lower-capital-cost traditional alternatives when climate and natural resource impacts are considered.
  • Leadership and due consideration of life-cycle costs, to foster a changed project scoping and funding paradigm that includes the adoption of whole life-cycle cost approaches to demonstrate why sustainable and resilient infrastructure outperforms lower-capital-cost traditional alternatives when climate and natural resource impacts are taken into account. Lewis has been selected to lead this action track and team, along with Dr. Cris Liban, chief sustainability officer for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (LA Metro), who in April was named Engineering News-Record Newsmaker of the Year.

The Coalition is bringing together leaders that are willing to be innovative and change agents in thinking, approach, technology and economics from a broad range of industries and perspectives, including insurance to maintain business continuity; academia to perform and provide verifiable research, data collection and projections to inform solution design; and philanthropy to bring a community and social justice perspective to ensure that vulnerable communities are not overlooked.

This is a model the Coalition aims to see employed in the infrastructure planning and design process as well — encouraging the right people to gather at the table early in the decision-making process to get diverse perspectives into the conversation and keep everyone thinking broadly about holistic solutions. The goal is to first pick the right projects, and then to do those projects right from a sustainability, resilience and life-cycle cost perspective.

“It is very important to bring operations and maintenance experts into the mix, for instance, to tell decision-makers that in the short term they may save money by using a certain type of material or solution; but over the life span of a project, it could result in significant additional costs related to maintenance expenses and non-compliance with evolving regulations, and incur additional expenses and climate impacts if it cannot be easily recycled or reused,” Lewis said. “Likewise, considering the future and incorporating hazard mitigation and resilience strategies into infrastructure is a proven means of long-term savings due to avoided costs when future disasters occur and there is no recurring damage.”

Being Future Focused

International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure WSP brings leadership to the Coalition through the lens of experience gained while addressing climate change issues head-on at every stage. The firm engages a full range of disciplines to look holistically at the problem across all infrastructure life-cycle elements and develop solutions from multiple perspectives, including planning, engineering, construction, disaster preparedness and hazard mitigation, asset management, funding and financing.

“WSP, and its Future Ready program in particular, encourages early engagement on client projects to ensure a clear understanding of future trends, potential impacts, and actions they can take to benefit their organization and minimize their life-cycle climate impact while maximizing resilience to future emergencies,” Unger said.

“Any time you want to bring change, it’s important to establish the future vision and develop a guiding coalition … that’s the stage we are at,” Lewis added. “So far we have great consensus and passion. The ripples on the pond are starting to expand.”

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