December 5, 2023

New Global Initiative Leverages Virtual Communities to Accelerate Sustainable Infrastructure

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

The Infrastructure Sustainability Learning (ISLe) Initiative aims to accelerate the development of climate-smart infrastructure through virtual knowledge exchange and problem-solving among infrastructure practitioners and experts.

Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) have partnered to launch the global initiative.

“Infrastructure decisions made over the next ten years will have reverberations for many decades to come, with substantial impacts for global efforts to advance sustainable development, decarbonization and climate adaptation,” noted Elizabeth Losos, an executive in residence at Duke University. “Given the significance of those stakes, we want to equip infrastructure practitioners with the knowledge and support that will help them do their best work.”  

The expertise, tools and best practices to build sustainable, climate-resilient infrastructure already exist, but the practitioners who plan, design, finance and construct infrastructure have not yet adopted them at a meaningful scale. The ISLe Initiative seeks to change that by creating virtual networks for government planners, engineers, developers and financers to learn from experts and one another about how to build climate-smart infrastructure.

Infographic. Left side indicates traditional approach of a consultant contributing to a project. Right side indicates ISLe approach in which networks support community-based infrastructure development. Sustainable infrastructure specialists (ISLe HubTeam) work with network of infrastructure learners practitioners who are producing projects.
The ISLe model eschews the traditional consultancy model in favor of virtual learning networks that build capacity among infrastructure practitioners.

The ISLe Initiative will create virtual communities of practice, taking inspiration from the proven Project ECHO learning and collaboration model developed for the health sector. This model provides a rapid, inexpensive and effective means of equipping practitioners with tools, access to expertise and a community of peers facing similar challenges and opportunities.

“Learning from practice can be a powerful avenue to scaling up and accelerating resilience implementation. By prioritizing knowledge transfer between sectors, connecting to existing initiatives and utilizing proven methodologies—such as Project ECHO—we can ensure that capacity building is low-cost, accessible and self-sustaining,” said Savina Carluccio, ICSI Executive Director.

Last year, the three founding partner organizations piloted a year-long virtual learning network based on UNEP’s Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure. The pilot network demonstrated successful adaptation of the Project ECHO model to the sustainable infrastructure field. Recordings and case study briefs from these sessions can be found on the pilot network’s webpage.

The ISLe Initiative is launching three inaugural ISLe Networks: 

  • The Sustainable Post-Disaster Rebuilding ISLe Network will support community leaders implementing post-earthquake rebuilding initiatives in Turkey.
  • The Nature-Positive Infrastructure ISLe Network will equip practitioners to protect, sustainably manage or restore natural or modified ecosystems to address societal challenges, simultaneously benefiting people and the environment.
  • The Climate and Sustainability Engineering Curriculum ISLe Network will advance engineering school leaders’ efforts to train the next generation of engineers to holistically integrate climate resilience, emissions reduction, and sustainability into infrastructure design.

Contact the ISLe Initiative

For more information, contact