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IRF Executives Talks with Isabel Dedring
September 16, 2021 @ 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm CEST
Isabel Dedring, Global Transport Leader at ARUP was hosted by IRF on 16 September for one of the IRF Executives Talks, a series of 30-minute talks launched by the IRF to get insights from CEOs and High-Level Executives of the world’s most innovative and influential companies and organisation from our industry. The conversation had a strong focus on Sustainability, Innovation, Investments, and Circular Economy.
ARUP has always had a strong focus on Sustainability. Why is sustainability so central in ARUP’s work and how does it impact the way the company does business and handle operations?
Ms Isabel Dedring opened by stating that ARUP is a values-led organisation that thinks very carefully about sustainability in everything. The company has developed a net-zero carbon strategy and has committed to becoming a net-zero organisation (using science-based targets to achieve goals set in the strategy).
The conversation continued around the issue of decarbonisation, which is currently central in the talks around COP26 that will be hosted in November this year. How do we accelerate decarbonisation of road transport? And is there something the road sector can learn from other sectors?
“I do think that the roads sector is key to the transport decarbonization discussion and even catalysing change in the broader built environment sector. For example, through things like the electric vehicle transition, we are really seeing a new relationship developing between the transport and energy sectors – and the two are increasingly going to need to work together”.
Isabel highlighted that there is sometimes an oversimplified narrative that roads are bad and infrastructure that supports other modes is always better, but actually where population densities are too low to support other modes, then roads are often the most viable option and absolutely essential for connecting people, supporting economies and also moving goods around.
“ I wonder if the roads sector could look to other parts of the transport industry a little more and see if there are lessons to learn e.g. the rail industry tends to think quite holistically about use of space on the tracks but also around and above stations – there is no reason why the roads industry can’t think a bit more deeply about land use next to roads and how it is being used”.
“ Roads really are key for short journeys and moving goods around, but we need to stop thinking roads are just for cars – roads are for everybody and should be safe and accessible for everybody to use” she continued.
For sure, the way we conceive road transport needs to change, but to what extent is the sector really ready to embrace this change and even more so how we steer investments in our sector in this direction?
“We are seeing changes in revenue streams, the direction of investment for transport schemes and brand-new business models popping up, often tied to the sustainability agenda but also as a result of the pandemic. These new business models for transport will really shake up supply chains and create the ability to incentivize the movements we want to see in new ways. I think it really is time we had 21st century business models for transport.”
The transport sector has remained pretty conservative when it comes to embracing innovation in thinking and processes, but data and the adoption of new technologies and tools will certainly be a game-changer for the industry.
“Data in transport is becoming more prevalent which is excellent but perhaps more interestingly, we are seeing it being harnessed in much more powerful ways than was previously possible. We have agent-based modelling teams who are able to collect and harness data to simulate transport movements across whole cities or even countries.”
Circular Economy, on the other hand, has also impacted the way ARUP conceives its projects and the relationship with its clients. “I think there are lots of areas where it can apply and I think it can help us consider how to build for an uncertain and changing future.
“We shouldn’t be necessarily building for 100-year lifespans anymore with no flexibility on how that asset is used or could be used. We need much more flexibility in our designs and to consider how something can be reused or recycled when it is no longer fit for purpose in its current form.”. To exemplify, Ms Dedring mentioned one of the projects ARUP has been involved with, the MX3D Bridge – a 3D printed footbridge that recently opened in Amsterdam.
“I really think this also goes back to the point about ‘not just building roads for cars’ but thinking about the whole range of multi-modal journeys that could be made”, she concluded.