The second-day keynote at the BeTogether event in Philadelphia this week addressed the topic of sustaining infrastructure, with a panel of three speakers and interactive discussion.
Norbert Young, the chair of Bentley’s Infrastructure Ambassador Council and director of Duck Cove Associates, put the issue of sustaining infrastructure in context of global shifts and challenges with five overriding trends.
- Explosive expansion of infrastructure in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are requiring a great deal of resources and transforming these nations from projects such as China’s high-speed rail effort to Brazil’s preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
- The stress of maintenance in the developed world are ongoing problems that need to be addressed, getting beyond the D-grade of the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card.
- Globalization is in play with projects that connect countries, but that come with security and infrastructure risks.
- Demand exceeds supply with a global race to capture raw materials and countries investing in resources in another country.
- Upheavals in energy balance with a 45% increase in energy demand globally and our carbon-based economy in decline.
- Sustainability is here to stay as a philosophy, discipline and practice.
The developing world was addressed by Catherine A. Leslie, executive director of Engineers Without Borders. The organization focuses on building capacity within communities with a minimum five-year commitment with a series of projects that focus on water, sanitation, energy, wastewater and other infrastructure projects. The focus on sustainability means that the projects must be affordable and accessible in a way that the community can maintain with minimum cost. The aims of projects are to provide a positive global impact by reducing energy consumption, improving the ecological impacts, and creating capacity within the local community.
Buddy Cleveland, Bentley’s senior vice president of Applied Research, discussed the sustainability index with the global biocapacity divided by our ecological footprint. Over the years we’ve moved toward the scale where the Earth cannot sustain itself. In order to sustain both the economy and the environment we much move toward lower human development so that we have lower environmental impact. The fundamental challenge revolves around an intelligent application of technology to reverse the drift toward high development with high impact, and to make the shift, there will be a change in policies and business models with incentives for change taking the form of mandates and regulations.
The panel spoke to issues of building capacity by recruiting young people and encouraging engineering careers by focusing on the impact that engineers can have on improving the planet.