Pushing the Boundaries of Innovation in Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure is the latest in a series of reports from our partner, The International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), on sustainable and resilient infrastructure. ICSI’s new Innovation Action Track is designed to profile originality in engineering practice and solutions and support the sustainable and resilient learning for others from these.

Bringing together groups of experts, ICSI has created a living database of projects - either built or in construction - which also helps them identify hotbeds of innovation based on location and context of projects.  The compilation was taken from projects in 30 industry publications which were reviewed over a 15-month period from January 2020. Projects reviewed in this ‘ecosystem of innovation’ were taken from private and public sector programmes. Projects were ranked using a scoring system that considered innovation, uniqueness, sustainability and resilience credentials, and, whether it achieved its aims and meets future needs as well as current. ICSI recognises that there are limitations to such a review. For example, only English language publications were reviewed. But the database will be added to and revised over time.

Of the 30 projects ranked, many were based in the US and north Europe with a couple from the UK. They varied from flooding to waste and renewables. A full list of projects is available in the report. Many took a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach that allowed them to meet multiple concerns from many stakeholders and all will continue to be viable long after implementation is complete. Analysis of the database showed that top projects had broad applicability and were scalable and adaptable. They engaged broad stakeholder groups in terms of equity and function.

The top projects, i.e. those with highest innovation, comprised the use of AI and 3D modelling. There were high levels of innovation in the renewable energy space, particularly through design and methodology, and a number involved smart buildings that generate more energy than they consume and continue to reduce their footprint over time. There were projects that grew, recycled, or constructed building materials and there were modelling and sustainable and resilient standard setting projects that scored highly.

Less innovation or gaps in innovation were identified, however, in water and coastal management programmes, transportation, geotechnical and high-rise building projects.

There is a lot to learn from reviews such as this, even with the limitations that it has. A review of projects included identifies some of the key challenges that need to be overcome to assist innovation. Evidently, this includes:

 - addressing issues with data integration

 - securing the buy-in of financial partners and owners and operators. One way suggested in which this may be addressed is through a collaboration with insurers and insurance underwriters to restructure insurance premiums to reduce the rates for infrastructure that addresses sustainability, resilience, and climate concerns

 - a shared approach to governance and a multidisciplinary city-wide perspective which involves stakeholders representing financing, user, owner, operator, and builder perspectives

 - understanding the innovation gap and working with policymakers and regulators to move the industry to address this, such as through strategic incentives, favourable regulatory behaviours, and the cost-benefit analysis that drives the market

ICSI intend to further refine their innovative project database over time and the database should, therefore, provide future and continuous learning on what can make infrastructure more resilient.