It was a Sunday afternoon when I was gathering my first thoughts about this post when my younger son popped into our WFH corner at home and asked me what I was doing. I asked him back if he knew what does something sustainable mean for him and, after some hesitation, answered: “something that lasts?”, and he wisely flew away deflecting further weird questions from dad.
Of course, Infrastructure, by definition, is meant to last. A long-term attitude is always present when we design and built it, no questions about it. However, to be truly sustainable, what are the things that actually need to last in an infrastructure to be truly sustainable? The answer for me is simple to write but complex to achieve: The economic and social value it generates to our stakeholders throughout the lifespan of the project.
If we switch our minds from the traditional, static, and robust concept of construction to a dynamic, changing, social and economic environment throughout the decades of our concessions’ term, we will face unforeseen realities and necessities. The way in which we conceive our projects, how they are financed and operated, is an adaptive and evolving concept that we must keep in mind, as it will allow us to keep providing value during their term, while also being sustainable.
This is neither my belief nor an educated guess, it is empirical and proven. During my years at Cintra, I experienced some relevant and unexpected events in our projects, namely a deep economic and financial crisis in the 2010s and lately a pandemic with a profound economic and social impact which in the end, hopefully, will come through soon. The focus during these times of uncertainty and change must be to preserve or even enhance the value to our users. Being customer-centric is the key always but paramount in periods of uncertainty. Those projects that couldn’t demonstrate a capacity to provide value to our users collapsed while others, that adapted and preserved or even enhanced that user value came through and became sustainable.
Value to users could sound trendy, it could even be seen as an abstract concept, but at Cintra, we devote significant resources to measure it. It is complex to understand the different value components provided by our projects and it is even harder to measure the actual total value perceived by our users, but we try. We use powerful Cloud-based solutions of Data Analytics to model and score each of the building blocks that compose the user value. Data informs our decisions better; data make us more sustainable.
Below are three of these value components that we continuously asses:
- The foundational block is safety. We build and operate projects that are objectively safer than comparable roads in their regions, we invest from the beginning in state-of-the-art engineering and technology solutions to implement in our roads and keep both our users and personnel as safe as possible.
- The second and most visible value block in our projects is reducing traffic congestion. No one wants to be stuck in traffic. We save users and businesses time so that they can invest it in leisure activities and family time. Basically, so that they have more time to get things done and focus on their businesses.
- A third one, less visible, is reliability,.We want to provide a reliable trip time to our users. No one should spend extra time to get from point A to point B when this quality time could be spent with the family. We invest significantly in data to understand the network traffic anomalies (important sport events or social events, long weekends, weather events, etc.) in order to lessen their impact and provide a reliable trip time to our users throughout the year.
These improvements, and by providing safe, fast and reliable trip times, have enhanced our users’ lifestyles over the years, unlocking greater wellness in our users’ life and making our projects sustainable.
How do we add value to our communities?
As I mentioned earlier, this is a process that takes decades. We logically deploy our projects in very dynamic areas, with economic and population growth that, thankfully, tend to beat our initial expectations. Our projects contribute to and enable this growth. However, growth means that we need to adapt, creating new capacity, new connectivity with new neighborhoods and new businesses. We need to be inclusive by connecting our roads to all the communities we serve, plan ahead of these possibilities and create our projects with these events in mind. Each project is a prototype, and we have one chance to make it right: therefore, the ability to adapt along the years to that growth, providing more value to more users makes us more sustainable as well.
Users are not isolated individuals; they live in communities and we are focused on providing not only value to individuals but value to the communities we serve. Cintra’s community involvement approach is far from big sponsorships just to make our brand visible. Our approach is through people, we become visible in our communities through our teams. They become members of the communities much sooner than when we put boots on the ground. First by introducing the company, our way of doing business and our value proposition to the different communities’ stakeholders and leaders.
As community members, we need to act responsibly, bringing the most of our capabilities and experience to the local supply chain. Employing local staff helps us blend in, it helps us listen to the local voices that seek to improve their communities. As a result of our teams’ involvement, we are doing amazing things: we build bike lanes; plan for and support further public transit, cooperate with schools by creating safe school zones, support educational programs and youth sports, support hospitals and first responders’ teams, etc.
Of course, our employees, individually, also show this spirit by volunteering in many charities to help those in need. They one of the best examples of our involvement and a real driving force of our projects’ value in their communities and from Cintra and Ferrovial we support their voluntarism. In essence, our strong involvement in the community is driven by our goal of trying to do the right thing as a company, together with our great employees and partners that make our projects more sustainable.
At risk to extend this text beyond reasonable, I want to mention that all these goals can only be achieved with the right choice of talent in the company, among our partners and within the local communities. I am pleased to work with best-in-class talent but like everything else, the talent pool changes over the years and in the markets in which we operate. We, again, need to adapt constantly by offering a diverse working experience in the markets we operate. Our employees are key, from the first commercial visit on day 0 to 50 years later managing a project. With this perspective, we need to be continuously adapting to become a sustainable employer for decades to come.
If you make it thus far reading, you may agree that being sustainable is a quest. It is done neither at the inception nor at the end of construction of a project, it has to be earned throughout the project’s life. Therefore, we need to look ahead and prepare for the future.
The history of bicycles: innovation as the key to adaptation
At the end of the 19th-century, bicycles became popular in major cities thanks to two innovations: the “safety bicycle”, a bicycle resembling today’s commuter bikes and made the penny-farthing unstable models obsolete, and John Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic tire. At that time, roads and streets were not ready for them, they were meant for cart horse wagons at best paved with cobblestones. Well, today, roads are not ready for the coming technologies of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). At Ferrovial and Cintra, we are getting ready with our AIVIA technology, providing connectivity between the Infrastructure and the vehicle, deploying road sensors, a real-time data engine and CV2X vehicle connectivity, all which offer a safe environment simultaneously for AVs and traditional vehicles. Innovating today with AIVIA is making us more sustainable.
Last but not least, as community members, we are on the same Planet as you; therefore, we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint to preserve the Earth for future generations so they can enjoy it in the same way as we enjoy it today. We have a strong program with decarbonization objectives approved by Ferrovial’s Board of Directors that requires a relevant effort across the Group. At Cintra we embraced these objectives with enthusiasm, as we believe we can make a difference in our future.
We’ve started years ago with our operations by installing solar panels in our buildings and choosing renewable sources for our energy consumption. We also plan to electrify our service vehicles as soon as they are market ready. These operational measures are needed but have a minor impact compared to the environmental impact of our users. This is why we offer discounts and free trips to High Occupancy Vehicles and transit agencies, in order to reduce our users’ carbon footprint.
Our ultimate goal is to reduce congestion in our corridors, primarily through the reduction of super polluting stop-and-go traffic. By looking immediately ahead, we are investing today in our vision of that future. With AIVIA, we will attract more electric vehicles to our projects since Electric Vehicles are the most advanced in driving automation: therefore, AIVIA will accelerate the capture of EVs on our roads. All these decarbonization initiatives will also make us more sustainable.
My son was close enough with his quick answer, but I can tell you that, when I tuck him in every night, I am proud of what we, at Cintra and Ferrovial, do every day to be sustainable. Night night.