Innovation may require change in industry’s shape


Global Leadership Forum Summit delegates have debated the outcomes of research into infrastructure and climate change, with a view to reshaping the industry to improve its positive influence.

In a conversation led by Professor Peter Guthrie from University of Cambridge, and Robert Spencer, global lead on ESG advisory at Aecom, industry leaders examined aspects of how the industry is shaped and how it may need to change.

Those discussions included the issue of carbon balance sheets, and the warning that without the ability to measure the carbon impact of every infrastructure and project accurately and comparably, the ability of industry to make good and often different decisions would be highly limited.

The shape of influence

Global leaders took the opportunity to examine how greater innovation could therefore be fostered by challenging the status quo. That saw some suggestion that innovation was best undertaken by the technical experts in infrastructure, but that the shape of industry could hold that back.

Conventional attitudes to risk within the infrastructure industry have often been highly risk averse. This has been especially significant where clients operate on a leveraged basis, and thus need external finance to fund projects. That in turn can then create a powerful need to reassure the financiers over time and cost as a primary influence on the safety of their money. That in turn, can limit the ability of a client to adopt innovations proposed by the technical experts in the field.

That could prove frustrating for an industry where the technical specialists have a great many successful decarbonising practices, but where influence over testing them or deploying them depends on a culture of innovation across the infrastructure ecosystem.

Indeed, one of the risks from that dynamic is not only that the industry fails to respond sufficiently well to its own climate impact,  but that other industries with a greater culture of innovation may simply move beyond infrastructure as a sector and potentially take over the delivery role of technical specialists in the industry.  

This debate reflected the early scoping of research underway through the Global Leadership Forum and the insights and conclusions of delegates will be fed into the final research report before it is presented in full to GLF members, and later to the wider industry and public.