Michelle Wyman, Executive Director
National Council for Science and the Environment


In just a few short weeks, the community that makes up the National Council for Science and the Environment will convene at the NCSE 2018 National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment to focus on the Science, Business, and Education of Sustainable Infrastructure: Building Resilience in a Changing World.

Through the showcasing of practical examples from domestic and international campuses, communities, and businesses, we’ll begin the process of addressing “the three central challenges now facing the global community, as crystallized in 2015: to reignite global growth, deliver on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and invest in the future of the planet through strong climate action. At the heart of this new global agenda is the imperative to invest in sustainable infrastructure.” [i]

While deemed critically important, ‘sustainable infrastructure’ is somewhat of a vague term, leading one to ask, what does sustainable infrastructure have to do with me?

 Infrastructure is typically thought of in the ‘legacy’ aspect, namely manmade bridges, roads, tunnels, water systems, and power grids. Sustainable infrastructure certainly includes the revitalization and upgrade of these traditional structures, but is a much more comprehensive approach to the way we develop, approach, and interact with the world around us.

According to recent studies, there are four dimensions of sustainable development that have been identified in the approach to building a more sustainable future:

  • Environmental dimension is related to the objectives of the conservation and preservation of the environment. This includes aspects such as atmosphere, soil, water, oceans and seas, biodiversity, and sanitation.
  • Social dimension is related to the objective that involves the satisfaction of human needs. They include population, employment and income, health, education, housing, and security, which aim to reflect the level of education, income distribution, and living conditions.
  • Economic dimension is concerned with the efficiency of production processes and changes in consumption patterns.
  • Institutional dimension includes the ability and effort spent by governments and societies to implement changes required for an effective implementation of sustainable development. [ii] [iii]


 Source: Bhattacharya, A., et al.


As we begin to look deeper at these issues – especially in terms of natural, built, social, and cyber infrastructure – it can be easy to view them as standalone dimensions. However, there are complex relationships between these four characteristics of sustainable infrastructure, and these integrations must be balanced. It’s in attempting to achieve this balance that NCSE will lead the conversation.

Highlighted by a 2016 Brookings study, “as an essential foundation for achieving inclusive growth, sustainable infrastructure underpins all economic activity. Inadequate infrastructure remains one of the most pervasive impediments to growth and sustainable development, and consequently in tackling poverty.”

Good infrastructure unshackles and removes constraints on economic growth and helps increase output and productivity. Investment in sustainable infrastructure can help generate employment, boost international trade, industrial growth, and competitiveness while reducing inequalities within and among countries all the way down to cities and counties.

Sustainable infrastructure also holds the key to poverty reduction and societal well-being in part because it enhances access to basic services and facilitates access to and knowledge about work opportunities, thus boosting human capital and quality of life. Sustainable infrastructure helps reduce poverty and extreme hunger, improve[s] health and education levels, assist[s] in attainment of gender equality, allows for the provision of clean water and sanitation, and provides access to affordable energy for all.

Sustainable infrastructure promotes sustainable consumption, production, and resource utilization to ensure that habitats and settlements are resilient, and that ecosystems and [resources] are used in a sustainable manner. On the one hand, it enhances food security through more efficient resource use and reduces vulnerability to environmental shocks. On the other, bad infrastructure can and does kill people on a large scale mainly via air and other pollution, and puts pressure on land and natural resources to an extent that may compromise the viability of future generations and create unsustainable economic burdens in the future.” [iv]

As mentioned by Tatyana P. Soubbotina in her report for the World Bank,[v]this balance can be discussed with reasons:

  • If environmental and social losses resulting from economic growth turn out to be higher than economic benefits, the overall result for people’s well-being becomes negative.
  • The economic growth itself inevitably depends on its natural and social conditions. To be sustainable, it must rely on a certain amount of natural resources and services provided by nature such as pollution absorption and resource regeneration. The economic growth must be constantly nourished by the fruits of human development.[vi]

These relationships highlight the critical and continued need for experts in all fields as it relates to sustainable infrastructure.

Pulmonologists, internists, and oncologists are needed to measure, treat, and prevent health problems caused by environmental pollutions.

Climate and environmental scientists, researchers, and academic leaders must ensure the preservation of natural infrastructure, the effectiveness and resilience of built infrastructure, and the education of future leaders.

Psychologists, sociologists, and data scientists must take the lead in examining behavior, improving how individuals and cultures interact with and prioritize sustainability, health, and the environment.

Economists, financial institutions, and private companies must innovative to adequately address our challenges and ensure financial resources are available, making sustainable development more efficient, affordable, and a better economic investment.

Local, state, federal, and international government leaders must make sustainability a priority, working to promote public-private partnerships, focusing on income and cultural equality across all populations, and ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare to both urban and rural communities.

It is the mission of the National Council for Science and the Environment to unite our scientific, academic, research, policy, and planning experts with governments, academic institutions, companies, and organizations across the globe to comprehensively address these challenges – beginning in Washington, D.C. from January 22-25 at NCSE 2018. Please join us, I hope to see there.


[i] Bhattacharya, A., Meltzer, J., Oppenheim, J., Qureshi, M.Z. and Stern, N., 2016. Delivering on Sustainable Infrastructure for Better Development and Better Climate. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/global_122316_delivering-on-sustainable-infrastructure.pdf.

[ii] Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (2015) Indicators of sustainable development. http://www.ibge.gov.br. Accessed 8 Mar 2017.

[iii] Barbosa MTG, Almeida M (2017) Developing the methodology for determining the relative weight of dimensions employed in sustainable building assessment tools for Brazil. Ecol Indic 73:46–51

[iv] Bhattacharya, A., et al.

[v] Soubbotina, TP (2004) Beyond economic growth—an introduction to sustainable development, 2nd edn. The World Bank. Available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/14865/2489402nd0edition0Beyond0economic0growth.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[vi] Goi, Chai-Lee (2017) The impact of technological innovation on building a sustainable city. International Journal of Quality Innovation. Available at: https://jqualityinnovation.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40887-017-0014-9