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Debilitated infrastructure leads to US$23t in losses; adaptability and sustainability are key to future development

US$90 trillion is set to be invested in infrastructure around the world by 2030. In The New Climate Economy 2018—the latest edition of one of the most prestigious environmental studies undertaken internationally—The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate pointed out two possible ways of applying this investment: continuing with the usual infrastructure design methods (an option which it did not recommend) or developing innovative models for a sustainable future (an option which it approved). Data confirms that infrastructure from recent decades is proving increasingly flawed with its high environmental impact and usage problems that result in massive losses.

In the United States, for example, the forecasts for the 2020-2039 period say that losses derived from current infrastructure will amount to about US$23.3 trillion, affecting transportation, water, energy, and seaports. But it is also worrisome for the final consumer. Specifically, this situation can lead to an annual loss of US$3,300 dollars per household.

“We are not aware of the problems that deficient infrastructure entails for entire productive systems. What would happen to the manufacturing sector if the infrastructure it employs to make and/or deliver its products begins to fail? We must understand this new reality and act accordingly. Luckily, we can acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to comprehend all aspects of sustainable infrastructure, ranging from public policy to operations management and data collection,” points out Afreen Siddiqi, researcher and instructor of MIT Professional Education’s online program Sustainable Infrastructure Systems: Planning and Operations. In this 8-week program—available in both English and Spanish—professionals will learn systems theory as the analytical basis for engineering sustainable infrastructure in order to repair and rebuild in a more efficient, adaptable way.

Infrastructure interruptions—supply outages, closed roads, airport delays, etc.—cost organizations US$300 billion per year, affecting production capacity, reducing sales, and delaying supply and distribution. The interruption in the use of electric energy leads to losses of US$38 billion, along with another US$82 billion derived from lost sales. And the costs for adapting and restoring can reach $US65 million, with a similar figure in infrastructure for water and telecommunications.

Beyond the economic losses, there is another negative impact of building new infrastructure. According to the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure, developing new buildings, highways, and supply facilities makes up 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. And poorly designed infrastructure can encourage forced movements of communities, endanger wildlife species, and, in addition, have a greater impact on public spending than is necessary.

“Everything indicates that we must rethink our infrastructure and opt for more sustainable, resilient models. They are more profitable in the long-term due to lower maintenance costs, they offer higher reliability, and they allow the final user to be more prepared in the face of a crisis. Are we willing to invest in these models?” Professor Siddiqi asks. The World Bank has the answer: The return on investment (ROI) for sustainable infrastructure can reach four dollars per dollar invested.

The urgency, therefore, is evident, with two clear ways to tackle it: training and coherent investment. This involves building the basics, betting on institutions that supervise infrastructure resiliency, creating regulations and incentives, and enhancing decision-making. MIT Professional Education’s course Sustainable Infrastructure Systems: Planning and Operations, gives participants the adequate knowledge to examine systems theory as a tool for the conception of sustainable infrastructure systems; explore metrics and evaluation methods to evaluate the sustainability of the components of a system; learn about life-cycle assessments (LCA); and determine the linkages between water, energy, and agriculture resources.

MIT Professional Education, an institution that is committed to technological and human development, seeks to help professionals understand, master, and lead the change towards a better future. And in this future, sustainable infrastructure is essential.

Read the article (published in Spanish) from La Razón here:

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