A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.


A man pushing the recycling icon on a screen with many different symbols representing sustainability - CO2 emissions and the impact of the construction sector on climate change

Introduction to the Working Group on Sustainability

by Spiro Pollalis, Professor of Design, Technology and Management, Harvard Design School, USA

The Infrastructure and Urban Development industry not only underpins the global economy, providing crucial infrastructure facilities, commercial buildings and industrial plants to drive economic activity; it also has a powerful influence on the environment and society. Just consider:

  • The engineering and construction industry is the largest consumer of raw materials worldwide
  • 30% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings
  • 50% of the solid waste in the United States is produced by the construction industry
  • About 180 million people globally work in construction – in many developing countries, the majority of these jobs are informal

Acknowledging its responsibilities, the construction sector has committed to helping meet sustainability targets, through global agreements such COP21, the Sustainable Development Goals and Habitat III.

Regarding environmental sustainability, one industry expert has formulated the challenge in these terms: “to reduce waste in the construction process and CO2 emissions during ops,” or more generally, “to reduce the real total costs of ownership for society.”

Equally important, sustainable projects should be financially viable to contractors and operators. This is feasible if we consider: (a) reduced life cycle costs (b) long-term benefits and (c) society’s demands. For commercial buildings, the market has matured with sustainable buildings being in demand, with higher rent and higher re-sale value. Sustainable buildings also have lower operating costs.

At first glance, three is little obvious incentive for publicly financed projects to be sustainable, unless leadership believes in sustainability. On the other hand, the publicprivate partnerships which often operate the facility consider life-cycle costing and replacement value, so sustainability is a valid choice. Resilience is also a main objective for infrastructure and frequently reinforces sustainable choices, since sustainability and resilience can have common ground.

An inherent problem for both the owner and service providers is assessing the level of sustainability of the project. The owner, and particularly a public owner, should use objective criteria, while the consultants need to have convincing arguments, comparable to the competition. Thus, widely acceptable standards and procedures in assessing sustainability are necessary

Please access all contribution of the Working Group on Sustainability here.