aerial view of a road

The INCA Project: Building the Sustainable Infrastructure of the Future

07 of December of 2020

Can you imagine a world without roads, bridges, or airports? For most of us, that would be inconceivable. They have always been a part of our lives, and despite knowing they haven’t always been there, they’ve been around as long as we can remember. They are a part of the landscape along with so many natural features – in harmony with them.

Infrastructure is vital to society’s development: they improve our quality of life, make it possible to transport goods and services, and let us travel and stay connected. They have a significant positive impact on cities and countries, as well as urban development: from bridges that connect towns to roads that our goods are transported on or airports that link countries in just a few hours.

Similar to that huge positive influence they have on society, infrastructure can have a dark side: these structures have a clear impact on nature. Even if they are perfectly integrated into cities and the environment, they can affect the environment, fauna and flora, and involve negative environmental impacts and risks.

A pioneering, innovative project

Those of us on Ferrovial’s Innovation and Sustainability teams have challenged ourselves to develop a pioneering methodology that would enable us to analyze the risks and impacts different types of infrastructure would have on the environment before construction. That was what led to the creation of this exciting project in 2018. ‘INCA’ (Integrated Natural Capital Assessment), along with Creando Redes, is the first Spanish company for Ecological Restoration. It’s co-financed by Climate-KIC, an entity of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

We developed INCA after running into a problem: until now, there were no tools like it to assess the risks of natural capital prior to construction. Through this pioneering project, we’ve developed an innovative methodology that lets us measure construction’s environmental impact in economic terms. That will be highly useful in assessing our debt to nature and infrastructure’s negative impact in a given area.

We’re looking for a forward-facing environmental assessment, always thinking about respecting everything that nature offers us: not only taking care of trees and animals but also considering how the natural environment influences our lives and erupts in cities, as with parks. Our goal is to look to the future to build sustainably while respecting nature.

Because… what happens when we build a road?  Not only are human beings influencing the natural environment through the trees that will have to be cut down, but the entire ecosystem that offers us so much disappears. This is precisely what we want to do, making it possible to quantify these natural losses in a positive way that can be used in future projects to minimize the impact on and risks to nature.

The results…

This is a scientific methodology we can use to study all of the resources the ecosystems we live in offer us. Through a series of calculations and algorithms, we can predict how they can be affected by construction and translate the result into euros, monetizing that environmental impact so that it can be understood universally.

This is precisely why it is innovative: the project lets us do risk analysis beforehand. This is vital in large-scale projects where we need significant planning and prior knowledge to prevent high impacts. This way, decisions can be made based on a tested scientific methodology.

We’re currently working on designing the tool that will automate the entire process developed in the methodology. In the future, this will allow teams to use this application in a simple, intuitive way on-site. Just by introducing uploading the blueprints, the software will be able to give information on the predicted impact to help make a priori decisions and determine the best choice for more sustainable construction.

In the medium term, we intend to launch the tool in the United States and Spain before moving it to other countries, thus allowing it to become a leading, pioneering tool worldwide.

It’s designed to be used for linear infrastructures like roads or railways. However, it will also enable us to improve the impact of other major projects needed for social development, like water treatment plants or airports, and work to make them sustainable.

For a sustainable future

More and more businesses are listing sustainability as a top priority. It’s a new possibility for developing new businesses and alternatives that respect our land.

We have to see sustainability as an opportunity, driving us toward the future. We’re at a point where society must start talking about climate change and act, conserve nature, and take care of our planet. We must seek this balance between developing cities, which is crucial, and doing so sustainably with minimal impact.

That’s why INCA was created. It will revolutionize the way we understand infrastructure and offer us a glimpse of the future of construction and sustainability.

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