The Future of Infrastructure

Creating opportunity for everyone

Investment in infrastructure has the power to alleviate today’s economic distress and create opportunities for tomorrow.

Executive summary

Creating opportunity for everyone

Our third Future of Infrastructure report comes at a pivotal moment. Countries around the world are wrestling with an unprecedented global shock that knows no boundaries: coronavirus. We will recover, but nobody knows how long that will take. The only certainty is that there will be change.

As practitioners we must constantly analyze the future so that the infrastructure we build stands the test of time. A crisis of this magnitude will lead to deep shifts, some of them unexpected. Priorities will change, some of them for good. Our systems and structures will need to adapt. Resilience and innovation will be more important than ever.

As restrictions start to ease, attention will be focused on what needs to be done to ensure a safe return to work, education and eventually leisure activities. How should we travel? Where should we work? How should the spaces where we work and learn be organized?

Once coronavirus has been tamed, there will be new demands. Our health systems will have different wants and needs. Technological solutions that have helped us fight the virus and ease its economic consequences will lead to permanent changes, some of which are only just beginning.

On the policy side, attention is rightly focused on the immediate priorities of the health crisis and the related economic crash, but we should be wary of letting other considerations slide. If we are to emerge from this pandemic fit to tackle the other crisis – the climate emergency - we need to keep a lid on emissions. We must also continue to value the social impact of our infrastructure decisions, particularly if we are to help the most vulnerable in our societies – those who have been most impacted by coronavirus.

These considerations are addressed in our report.

History tells us that investment in infrastructure has an important role to play in helping economies get back on their feet. In the short term, it provides much-needed jobs, while strengthening the backbone of the economy for the long-term. With the right choices, infrastructure can help society emerge stronger from this crisis. At AECOM, we feel we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure that it does.

Future of Work

Work as we know it has been disrupted. As a result, the concept of work is changing, commute journeys are varying, employee values are shifting, and workplaces are no longer just offices. The time to consider the holistic Future of Work is now.

Up until very recently, the shift away from traditional office design towards more dynamic workplaces and work habits which promote wellbeing has felt relevant only to certain types of organizations, agencies, workers, and geographies. The coronavirus pandemic changed that almost overnight.

As a consequence of stay at home orders around the globe, many employees and organizations were thrown into working in a completely different way. Remote working became the norm and office buildings stood empty. Amidst the continued disruption, organizations and their people are demonstrating agility, resilience, patience and understanding to make sure work gets done.

The future of work that we predicted has been accelerated, that future is now. Our experts have come together to explore some of the biggest shifts, their impact and implications, so we can prepare for a holistic Future of Work where people and places thrive.

Special Feature

The virtual watercooler: workforce holds key to what future office will look like

Towards the workplace of the future

To get a handle on how flexible working impacts workplace requirements, we reached out to 50,000 colleagues and many clients. The results were surprising.

The future is now

Infrastructure has an important role to play in an economic bounce back, creating dividends for a better future. The time to start rebuilding society is now.

Infrastructure has an important role in helping the world recover from the economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic. Although governments around the world are rightly focused on immediate needs regarding health, hunger and staving off economic collapse, preliminary work has started on the next phase of the recovery. To restore business and consumer confidence, stimulate investment and create jobs, stimulus packages are underway.

When making choices about what projects to support, decision makers should consider economic, social and environmental outputs. As well as helping industries hurt by the shutdown, recovery plans are likely to include investment in key sectors such as transport, telecoms and hi-tech, health-care and clean energy.

As we look to the future, practitioners have a responsibility to anticipate the changes underway, no matter how unpredictable the world may seem right now. Given the severity of this crisis, we have a duty to ensure the infrastructure we build stands the test of time.

Special Feature

The Future is Now

Infrastructure's role in economic recovery

The global community has been badly shaken, but already, there is a determination to emerge from this stronger: to rethink how we do things and reboot.

Adapting today for a new tomorrow

No-one knows what our world will look like when coronavirus is over. But as an industry whose projects are built to last for generations, we’re used to preparing for an uncertain future. The projects we build today need to be ready for the requirements of tomorrow.

Coronavirus has unleashed profound changes that will have a lasting impact on our world. We can be certain that there will be no return to pre-pandemic norms - even when the medical emergency is brought under control. As with all crises, we are likely to witness vast changes in the economic, political, social, environmental, and technological landscape which, in turn, will impact infrastructure requirements.

Our industry needs to be ready. Even if the outcomes are not yet known, we need to be aware of the changing circumstances and make sure we’re not late in our response. In the short term, we must prepare to adapt our infrastructure to cater for social distancing requirements, and as we emerge from the crisis, we must anticipate some of the more profound and lasting changes underway.

Given the severity of this crisis, our industry has a duty to ensure infrastructure creates the maximum benefits. To do this, we must be ready for the new normal, adapting our approach to infrastructure accordingly.

Special Feature

Harnessing lasting climate benefits from the coronavirus lockdowns

Keeping a lid on emissions after the lockdowns end

Recent restrictions on movement and the resultant drop in economic activity have been tough on people but good for emissions reductions. How we can ensure that the environmental gains aren’t temporary?

Generating social impact

There’s a growing recognition that when it comes to measuring value, we’ve been overly focused on narrow economic measures instead of wider social benefits. As governments move towards broader measures of societal progress, the challenge for built-environment professionals is to identify how they can best use their expertise to benefit communities holistically.

When building the case for investment in infrastructure, the potential for economic returns is the most cited rationale – how much growth will be unlocked, how many jobs created. But casting a narrow focus on short-term economic returns may be impeding both the investment and political will necessary to advance projects with larger social benefits.

As an industry, in order to deliver benefits such as wellbeing, emissions reductions and equity we need to find ways to measure and assess them. Communicating those quality-of-life benefits will help rally support in affected communities and give promoters and funders rationale to move ahead. 

Recognition of the importance of social benefits is growing, with governments in New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland 'BBC News: Iceland puts well-being ahead of GDP in budget' tailoring policies towards measures of wellbeing as well as gross domestic product. The UK Government has taken a different legislative approach that takes account of social value in public-funded projects. Commissioning bodies are now typically weighting the delivery of social benefits around 10 percent of their tender evaluation processes.

Special Feature

Social impact: Building a better case for infrastructure Investment

Measuring social impact

As we look towards recovery, there’s a danger that economic concerns dominate infrastructure decisions. To support those most hurt by coronavirus, social impact should be a key driver for investment.

Strengthening resilience

For 10 years, we’ve seen cities discussing and preparing resilience strategies. New vulnerabilities – from coronavirus to the climate challenge –make implementing those strategies an urgent and strategic imperative.

Economically speaking, we are living in the most prosperous time in history, despite the devastation being inflicted by the coronavirus. Yet there is a perception that our cities and towns are under-prepared to weather the impacts of the myriad of threats now facing us.

The timing of threats such as coronavirus is extremely difficult to anticipate, but the responses can be managed. The costs of inaction are high – from hurricanes to flooding and drought, not to mention the devastating bushfires in Australia and California.

Too often the stumbling block to implementing these strategies is a lack of money. Capital sources exist but securing the funding and financing is essential for success. For resilience strategies to be implemented, we need to look for ways of bridging the funding gap, including innovative financing mechanisms and making the case with the communities who are paying for them.

Often, it’s the poor and vulnerable communities who are most affected. Those lower down the income scale have few options when disaster strikes. Moreover, as urban populations grow, improvements to public services such as transport and housing will be needed to avoid a detrimental impact on daily lives.

Special Feature

Paying it forward: Why resilience is a rising priority

Environmental resilience to natural shocks

From the coronavirus to severe weather events, achieving resilience and meeting the infrastructure funding gap has become an urgent and strategic imperative for cities.

Securing resources

When it comes to funding and financing, getting the incentives right is key. In some places, private financing has fallen out of favor. To find a way forward, aligning public and private sector interests is key.

When it comes to funding and financing, getting the incentives right is key. In some places, private financing has fallen out of favor. To find a way forward, aligning public and private sector interests is key.

Private finance models are a way for the public sector to access the skills, discipline and expertise of the private sector. Such set-ups have fallen out of favor due to badly-designed projects that failed to serve the interests of all parties – but that doesn’t need to be the case.

Unless we as an industry make the case for private sector financing, much needed infrastructure won’t happen. Winning the argument will depend on two things. Firstly, for private financing to be relevant and have a future, public and private sector interests need to come together. Secondly, the industry needs to make more effort to listen to citizens’ needs and respond to them by delivering real and tangible benefits in response to their concerns.

In this way, we can show that privately financed projects can be both in the public interest and provide value for money.

Special Feature

Private financing of infrastructure: Serving the public interest as well as profits

Paying for infrastructure

How can private funding serve the public interest - not just with policymakers, but also with taxpayers and those who stand to benefit from the infrastructure?

Sustainability tackling the climate emergency

To put the brakes on the climate crisis, the infrastructure industry has a key role to play. Energy and transport networks and the construction sector account for 70 percent of carbon emissions globally. To meet our climate goals, fresh thinking is needed in how such infrastructure is set up and run.

Moved by climate concerns, the public are applying greater pressure on corporations and governments to reduce carbon emissions. In turn, some of those organizations have set targets.

The Paris Agreement on climate change commits signatories to limiting global warming to 1.5-2°C. To meet this goal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that carbon emissions need to be reduced to zero by 2050. A growing list of countries, cities and corporations are signing up to this target, with some bringing it forward to 2030.

At the same time, advances in technology are reducing the price of renewables and increasing energy efficiency. This, in combination with well-informed policies, is making the Paris goals achievable – but more needs to be done. From community energy schemes to reforestation, humankind has the know-how to reduce infrastructure emissions. Exemplary schemes – that if implemented more widely could have a real impact – should be celebrated and shared.

Special Feature

Net zero heroes: Exemplary projects winning the battle on carbon reduction

Making our goals achievable

Projects that could have a huge impact on the sustainability and health of our planet - if implemented more widely.

Making the case for infrastructure

Infrastructure is everybody’s business. Promoters will have more success making projects that are best for the world if they make the case with the users of infrastructure as well as the funders.

It’s no longer good enough to cite growth and job predictions when it comes to making the case for infrastructure. Climate change and coronavirus have forced a recognition that traditional metrics need to change to capture the true value of a project.

In this section, we take a look at how promoters of the biggest infrastructure projects go about making the case, taking the planned move of Indonesia’s capital city as an example.

The lifecycle of mega-projects – large-scale ventures involving multiple public and private stakeholders, developed over years with a transformational effect on millions of people’s lives – happens over decades and in some instances even centuries. We argue that to be sustainable, such projects must plan and finance for a future they can’t yet imagine ― and which in some cases, they might never even see.

Predicting future requirements is difficult, but encouraging promoters and sponsors to think on these timescales is an even greater challenge. Nonetheless, understanding where a place and its citizens are headed should guide how mega-projects are prioritized.

Special Feature

Moving cities: Lessons in building for a better future

Planning for a population flux

Indonesia’s planned new capital city must serve the needs of tomorrow’s generations as well as today’s. To be sustainable, promoters and sponsors can learn from the growing pains of other cities.

Driving innovation

The dual demands of climate change and urbanization are putting urban infrastructure under pressure like never before. To meet these challenges, traditionally risk-averse industries such as water, transport and commercial real estate need to change the way they operate.

When it comes to large infrastructure projects, the money and timescales involved makes innovation a risky business. In these industries, even small errors can be hugely costly.

Although there’s a recognition in many sectors that changes are needed, there is also, naturally, a degree of nervousness about moving from a culture that minimizes risk to one which rewards risk-taking.

Moving from idea to innovation depends, in the first instance, on the quality of the idea. But without a supportive environment, many good ideas will fall by the wayside.

At AECOM, we believe in championing our creative thinkers, giving them time and space to test and evolve their ideas. We do this by regularly calling for submissions to our innovation competitions and by encouraging our people to challenge the status quo. This culture has yielded an environmentally friendly method of harvesting harmful algae blooms, a destruction technology for dangerous chemicals, as well as many time and money-saving complexity-reducing construction technologies.

Special Feature

Cultivating innovation in risk-averse industries

Staying competitive

When delivering big infrastructure projects, the industry traditionally prioritizes operational excellence over innovation. There’s a growing realization, however, that innovation is needed to stay competitive.
  • Podcast


    Coronavirus; what role will infrastructure play in our economic recovery?

    Featuring senior industry leaders: Mark Thurston, CEO, HS2, Dean Sporn, Director, Highways England, Nick King, Group Director, Network Rail

Explore the themes

Future of Work

Future of Work

The future is now

The future is now

Adapting today for a new tomorrow

Adapting today for a new tomorrow

Generating social impact

Generating social impact

Strengthening resilience

Strengthening resilience

Securing resources

Securing resources

Working sustainably and tackling the climate emergency

Working sustainably and tackling the climate emergency

Making the case for infrastructure

Making the case for infrastructure

Driving innovation productivity and efficiency

Driving innovation productivity and efficiency

Business resilience and continuity

Our approach

We are doing everything we can to help ensure the safety and well-being of our employees, maintain operational resilience and support our clients around the world. Discover how we're facing the challenge of responding and preparing appropriately for coronavirus.