Webinar highlights industry need to innovate digitally to tackle climate change

22 Jun 2023

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FIDIC’s latest webinar, which took place on 22 June 2023, was a special event to launch the latest State of the World report, Digital Technology on a Path to Net Zero. The report highlights how digital technology is being used in the engineering, construction and infrastructure sector and how it is being applied to agendas such as carbon reduction, net zero and the fight against climate change.

Speakers at the webinar, which was sponsored by Schneider Electric and chaired by FIDIC’s director of policy, external affairs and communications Graham Pontin, included FIDIC policy analyst Basma Eissa, Stacy Van Dolah-Evans, global segment director - design firms at Schneider Electric, Jianping Wu, professor in the School of Civil Engineering at Tsinghua University and representing the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, Sophia Harlow, associate partner at Beale & Co, Fabian Sommer, project manager and head of section at Lombardi and Marcial Rivera Rodriguez, head of process engineering at Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos de Costa Rica, an engineering and architectural institution in Costa Rica.

Stacy Van Dolah-Evans from Schneider Electric said that the report was “of its time” and contained insights from across the industry. He made the point that technology was proceeding at pace and this rapid acceleration was outpacing contract development and this was a challenge for the industry going forward. He also highlighted some of the work that his organisation was doing with their clients and stressed the need for an open and innovative approach to be adopted by the industry when looking at how to apply digital technologies to the challenge of meeting net zero objectives. While he thought that the industry could rise to the challenge, a mindshift was needed in the way that companies work and collaborate with each other if real success was to be achieved.

Jianping Wu spoke about the World Federation of Engineering Organizations’ (WFEO) contribution to global climate change mitigation and specifically its WFEO Climate Change Mitigation Best Practice Project. He highlighted the aims of the project, which were to seek and promote the best engineering solutions to address climate change mitigation. The project was considering data collection from WFEO member countries and will cover seven key areas - design,
building materials, construction, operation, reconstruction, waste and macro indicators. Wu encouraged stakeholders from across the infrastructure space to engage
in both FIDIC’s and WFEO’s ambitious projects, the success of which would make great contributions to climate change mitigation.

Sophia Harlow from Beale & Co highlighted some of the risks and legal issues and challenges involved in using digital tech. “The big challenge is data,” she said, making the point that with many stakeholders involved across different international territories and jurisdiction, consulting firms working in the infrastructure sector were having to take a much wider view than just focusing on their core skills. The provision of ‘software as a service’ and the rise of AI would also create new and maybe unforeseen challenges for engineering firms which would need to be considered, said Harlow.

Fabian Sommer from Lombardi said that there was a reluctance amongst some in the industry to adopt new and untested solutions, with clients seeing these as a potential additional cost. He said that there needed to be a real cultural mindshift in the industry, which needed to "stop doing what it has done for years". Innovation was key, he said and real change came from true collaboration between all sections of the industry.

Marcial Rivera Rodriguez from Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos de Costa Rica, said that it was important to remember that innovation and digitalisation in the sustainability arena wasn’t just a technical discussion, it was crucial to show that digital had the potential to change people’s lives for the better and that is why the task of changing mindsets and better collaboration was so important and necessary.

Using a combination of desk research and industry discussions, the new FIDIC report takes a deeper look into how technological change is occurring within the infrastructure sector and how this change also links to the reduction of carbon emissions. The webinar platformed the report’s six key recommendations for the industry to follow if it is to effectively achieve a net zero future. The recommendations are listed below.

  • Embrace the transformative power of digital systems to achieve ambitious net zero targets in the infrastructure sector.
  • Prioritise adaptability and interoperability and the implementation of machine-based technologies in digital systems.
  • Drive innovation through technology and unleash the potential of technology in both new infrastructure projects and the retrofitting of existing infrastructure.
  • Seize the momentum of change and capitalise on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic’s profound impact on the infrastructure sector.
  • Cultivate collaborative ecosystems and foster dynamic collaborations that unite stakeholders across the infrastructure sector.
  • Overcome barriers and embrace innovation by confronting the barriers impeding the widespread adoption of digital technologies in the infrastructure industry.

The wide-ranging discussion covered a number of areas, covering many of the above points, giving the speakers an opportunity to highlight their views on what needed to be done to embrace technology and digitalisation. Collaboration and being bold enough to innovate were key messages during the discussion and from the webinar summing up by FIDIC president Tony Barry, who also highlighted the need for stakeholders to sign up to the FIDIC Climate Change Charter.

Click here to download the FIDIC State of the World report, Digital Technology on a Path to Net Zero.

FIDIC is grateful to Schneider Electric for their sponsorship of this State of the World webinar. Click here to find out more about the services they offer.

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