Sustainable Infrastructure

2023 JUN 12

Mains   > Industry and infrastructure   >   Infrastructure & Investment models   >   infrastructure


  • Recently, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) published its first 'Sustainability Report for FY 2021–22,' showcasing its dedication to environmental sustainability and social responsibility.


  • Reduced emissions:
    • As per the report, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy consumption, operations, transport, and travel measured in metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent per km constructed saw a decline of 9.7% in FY 2020–21 and 2% in FY 2021–22.
    • With over 97 percent penetration, Electronic Toll Collection through FASTag has contributed to reduce the carbon footprint.
  • Recycled materials:
    • NHAI has been using recycled materials for National Highway construction. The use of fly ash and plastic waste in construction has increased over the last three years.
  • Wildlife Crossings:
    • In order to ensure sustainable environmental growth, NHAI created more than 100 wildlife crossings in three years across 20 states as a measure for wildlife protection and conservation to reduce man-animal conflict.
  • Eco-friendly National Highways:
    • Over the years, NHAI has been undertaking plantation drives to develop eco-friendly National Highways. There has been a significant increase in number of saplings planted from 2016-17 till 2021-22. Around 2.74 crore saplings were planted till 2021-22 to offset direct emissions from the vehicles. 
  • Inclusive and responsible work practices:
    • As per the report, over the last three years, women employment and employment of marginalized communities at NHAI have increased.
    • With its performance-based management system, NHAI has successfully promoted women, gender diversity, and minority employees over the past 3 years, with a steady increase in female hiring of 7.4 percent and a total increase of 3 percent in the overall work force in the past three financial years.


  • Sustainable infrastructure is planned, designed, constructed, operated, and decommissioned in a manner to ensure economic, financial, social, and environmental (including climate resilience) sustainability over its entire life cycle.
  • According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB, 2009), the basic principles underlying sustainable infrastructure include
    • promoting low-carbon development and minimizing impacts on local environments (e.g., renewable energy);
    • advancing solutions that help communities deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change (e.g., climate-resilient infrastructure);
    • improving the access of poor people to education, health, and basic social protections;
    • emphasizing gender equality and the empowerment of women;
    • improving the transparency and efficiency of public resource management (e.g., controlling wasteful public spending and corruption)


  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change:
    • From an environmental perspective, sustainable infrastructure aids in climate resilience.
    • According to the UNEP, the infrastructure sector is responsible for approximately 79% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Sustainable infrastructure can help countries meet their national targets as set in each country’s intended nationally determined contribution (or INDC) to the overall 2 º C goal set at Paris. According to the 2015 Synthesis Report on INDCs, infrastructure and sustainable transport are priority areas for many countries’ submissions.
  • To fulfil Sustainable Development Goals:
    • Sustainable infrastructure is crucial to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
    • For instance, SDG 9, Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, and SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, are explicitly connected with infrastructure.
  • Enhances the quality of life:
    • Sustainable infrastructure not only protects the environment but also adds long-term value to the facilities. It enhances the quality of life for citizens of the country.
    • Sustainable infrastructure comes with the benefit of improved community health.
    • With improved air quality, a reduction in carbon emissions, less energy consumption, and the usage of renewable energy sources, sustainable infrastructure has tremendous health benefits.
  • Sustainable utilisation of natural resources:
    • Owing to rampant exploitation of natural resources, it is high time that we switch to sustainable infrastructure development.
    • This will help reduce dependence on natural resources. Through building repurposing, the use of recycled products and waste materials, etc., sustainable infrastructure projects will help save natural resources.
    • For instance, NHAI has been using recycled materials, fly ash, and plastic waste for National Highway construction.
  • Longer structural life spans:
    • Structural life spans of the projects that are designed keeping in mind sustainability are longer than other infrastructure projects.
    • This helps developers cut down on construction costs.
  • Wider socio-economic benefits:
    • From a wider perspective, sustainable infrastructure investment can be a source of economic growth, community wellbeing, and financial returns.
    • For instance, sustainable infrastructure development adds to employment prospects. Employment opportunities are created at every step. Job opportunities are aplenty, from construction to maintenance.
    • Also, sustainable infrastructure development improves the access of poor people to education, health, and basic social protections.


  • Huge capital outlay:
    • Sustainable infrastructure projects are in their nascent stages, and to develop such infrastructure, huge amounts of capital are required.
    • Therefore, even big corporate houses are unable to easily execute such projects. Hence, there is a large dependence on the government to develop sustainable infrastructure.
  • Require modern and innovative technology:
    • Sustainable infrastructure projects require modern and innovative technology.
    • The cost of such technology is also not affordable, and apart from this, the availability of this technology is also a matter of concern
  • Negligence towards socially relevant projects:
    • Most sustainable infrastructure development projects are concentrated in urban and metropolitan areas. Even in urban areas, basic amenities are not available to everyone.
    • In urban as well as rural areas, there is a lack of infrastructure in relation to education and health, which are the basic needs of the people.
  • Planning:
    • Most of the sustainable infrastructure projects look attractive on paper. But when the time comes for the actual implementation of such projects, there are some bottlenecks. Proper planning will help sort out these issues.


  • With infrastructure geared towards smart cities, the focus is on sustainable infrastructure, which also becomes the need of the hour considering the fact that the planet is suffering from eco-anxiety due to climate change and diminishing natural resources.


Q. “Sustainable infrastructure has overlapping benefits from physical, environmental, economic and social perspectives”. Discuss.