Change Leader: Sustainability Needs to Be Part of Any Infrastructure Project
This interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can watch a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/461fcmx.
It may be paraphrasing a bit, but Rodrigo Fernandes hopes he’s out of a job within five years.
“The ultimate outcome for a chief sustainability officer would be to disappear in a couple of years or five years,” he explains. “They would not be needed because sustainability would be everywhere.”
Perhaps he wasn’t referring to himself, as his job title is slightly different, but he often repeats his desire to add sustainability to every aspect of a business until it’s standard operating procedure.
“Don’t see sustainability as a silo,” he warns. “Any project should take sustainability as its objective, and everyone needs to challenge themselves in terms of what can be done to be more sustainable and resilient and not just, ‘Oh, that’s for the sustainability team, so they will deal with it.’ No, it has to be different.”
Fernandes’ actual job title is a play on words, combining the goals of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), a relatively new but increasingly common corporate concern, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which are a blueprint for any organization.
He notes that because Bentley Systems is a software development company, its carbon footprint and environmental impact is relatively low compared with other industries and sectors. But as a company developing software for infrastructure professionals, there remains a very important responsibility and role to support other organizations in terms of reducing their environmental impacts.
“I also want to make sure the industry and my peers and all stakeholders understand how important it is to align digital transformation with sustainability,” he adds.
Learning from Peers
Fernandes recently participated in a panel at the Environmental Analysts Global Business Summit in Chicago, and he was buoyed by the increased momentum to reach sustainability goals.
“There was positive energy among the sustainability experts,” he says. “This has been changing in the last couple of years, where we see more organizations are prioritizing sustainability and bringing more sustainability aspects into their strategic decisions.”
Contrary to the recent past, “everyone is putting pressure on sustainability experts to do this in a most-efficient way to address all these needs.”
Another takeaway from the event was several colleagues pointing out that innovation should start with a problem statement and not with technology.
“We should focus on the problem, and then the rest will fall into place,” explains Fernandes. “We need to identify the problem correctly and understand the problem. Only after that, we can start seeing how technology will help.”
Sustainability Advice for Engineers
According to Fernandes, investment in sustainability projects is exploding and becoming a major trend, but there aren’t enough human resources for all the work needed to address the world’s climate-related challenges. Therefore, engineers must learn to become more efficient, typically through technology and overall integration.
“If you are building or operating a water utility, for instance, understand that if you are more efficient, you will reduce costs and time, but you also reduce the environmental footprint,” he says.
Fernandes also stresses the importance of interoperability and an open approach. It’s important that the technology engineers use aggregate data from multiple vendors in multiple formats.
“Since infrastructure projects will stay with us 60 years or 80 years, you want to make sure the data you manage will stay with you from the early stages until the end of life,” he adds. “Digital twins are the best way to do this, but with a platform that is open and collaborative.”