A hidden barrier to sustainability
Last week I told the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange that the biggest barrier to sustainability is just 6 inches wide – the space between our ears. While that certainly is the case, this morning on the school run I was reminded of another pernicious barrier.
The kids and I stopped at the first of two pedestrian crossings we use on our school/nursery circuit. A Council worker had unscrewed the control panel and a whopping great incandescent bulb was hanging out – the one which lights up the ‘Wait’ sign. He disconnected this and started installing an LED lamp instead. While the main lights were converted to LED long ago (rightly prioritised given one light is always on), this insight into the inner workings of the light system was a reminder that over the decades we have built up a huge stock of inefficient infrastructure and that much is hidden from everyday view.
Infrastructure also suffers from a chicken and egg syndrome. Until there are sufficient electric vehicles, there is little incentive for investment in charging points, which in turn can dissuade people from electric cars. Our electricity grid was designed for centralised fossil fuel/nuclear power and not for distributed renewables. Our waste systems are still designed as disposal mechanisms rather than for material recovery.
There are several ways to address the stock of unsustainable infrastructure, whether at a national, local or organisational level:
- Identify and target critical infrastructure bottlenecks and either address them directly or incentivise others to change them.
- During investment decisions, whether in the public or private sector, ensure that not only are these best practice, but that they are flexible enough to allow future developments.
- Develop highly innovative solutions which make existing infrastructure completely redundant (as opposed to needing replacement).
Simple? If only!
Photo © Unisouth used under creative commons licence.