Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Sustainable infrastructure
Wikimedia Commons/Störfix

Sustainable Infrastructure

How infrastructure development is planned, financed, and implemented can make the difference between helping and harming economies, communities, and natural environments.

The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in investment in railways, roads, energy projects, and ports across the globe, aiming to address a significant “infrastructure gap.” Historically, many large-scale projects have had unintended negative impacts on the environment and local communities. When properly planned and built, however, infrastructure can provide a sustainable foundation for future human prosperity and well-being while protecting the planet.

Global Infrastructure Standards

The Nicholas Institute and its partners have been working to improve the infrastructure planning process and enabling environment in developing and emerging economies to direct growing infrastructure investments toward sustainable, quality projects. Infrastructure standards research and policy recommendations have illuminated the role of certification and labels in de-risking projects and attracting public and private financing. Sustainable, quality infrastructure standards are also being used to build geopolitical alliances among competing infrastructure initiatives of the West and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

Infrastructure for Good

Infrastructure for Good—a research initiative of Economist Impact in partnership with Nicholas Institute and Deloitte—is measuring how well countries deliver quality infrastructure in a sustainable and efficient manner while also addressing key economic, social, and environmental gaps. The Infrastructure for Good Barometer compares infrastructure ecosystems in 30 countries around the world, focusing on planning, well-regulated systems, and sustainable/responsible financing that result in outcomes such as social impact, equity, opportunity, sustainability, resilience and prosperity. Hear Nicholas Institute Senior Fellow Elizabeth Losos describe infrastructure for good in episode 1 of the Infrastructure for Good video series.

Infrastructure Sustainability Learning (ISLe) Initiative

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. 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. The Nicholas Institute, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) teamed up to launch ISLe following a yearlong pilot network focused on applications of UNEP’s Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure

US Water Infrastructure

Much of the United States’ infrastructure—drinking water, wastewater treatment, reservoirs, oil and gas pipelines, roads, and more—is past its expected lifetime. This infrastructure must be updated to adapt to changing climate conditions and population shifts. The Nicholas Institute has been studying how the US Army Corps of Engineers operates its reservoirs, which much of the country relies on for hydropower, water supply, and flood protection. Meanwhile, the Internet of Water Coalition is building a network of open, shared, and integrated water data and information to help federal, state, and local agencies make sustainable water resource management decisions.

Nature-Based Solutions

Momentum is building around nature-based solutions—actions to protect, manage, or restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges—as a form of sustainable infrastructure. The Nicholas Institute hosts a series of conversations with experts to discuss major policy issues relevant to scaling up implementation of nature-based solutions in the United States.

Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principle into Practice

Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principle into Practice was a monthly interactive webinar series for the sustainable infrastructure community that took place between May 2021 and May 2022. The series was a pilot project that informed the creation of the Infrastructure Sustainability LEarning (ISLE) Initiative, which is now developing additional networks.  


Infrastructure for Good

Infrastructure for Good is a research initiative that is measuring how well countries deliver quality infrastructure in a sustainable and efficient manner while also addressing key economic, social, and environmental gaps.

Belt and Road Initiative

In 2013, China announced its vision for the creation of the 21st century Silk Road, and momentum around this massive international infrastructure development program has been building ever since.

Infrastructure Sustainability Learning (ISLe) Initiative

ISLe networks help experts and practitioners build capacity for sustainable and resilient infrastructure by exchanging knowledge and collaborating on solutions.

Internet of Water Coalition

The water data infrastructure in the United States is antiquated and increasingly inadequate for 21st-century water challenges. While water data have been collected by federal, state, and local agencies for decades, much of this data is not open—meaning discoverable, accessible, and usable. Because of this, we are often unable to answer basic questions about our river basins and aquifers in a timely way.


The majority of United States reservoirs were constructed when climate was thought to be unchanging and past precipitation and temperatures were reliable for predicting future conditions. Because much of the United States relies on reservoirs for hydropower, water supply, and protection from floods, it is critical to rethink how to manage reservoirs in a changing world.