The Solutions Lab – Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure

The Solutions Lab - Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure

Sustainable infrastructure is globally recognised as key to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Over the last years, more and more strategies, policies and tools have been developed to unleash this potential. Yet, public and private sector still struggle to put in place infrastructures that meet the four principles of sustainability: economic and financial, environmental, social, and institutional. To analyse what hinders broad uptake of existing sustainable infrastructure solutions and to identify innovative approaches that can be scaled across regions, the Global Solutions Initiative (GSI) and GIZ jointly launched The Solutions Lab – Scaling for Sustainable Infrastructure in November 2019. The Solutions Lab is an 8-months co-creative journey that entails 3 face-to-face meetings as well as a virtual dialogue process and various outreach events along the way. It brings together change agents from the worlds of policymaking, business, finance, academia and civil society, who share a passion for sustainable infrastructure and a strong commitment to transformative and actionable solutions.


Work in the Solutions Lab

Following the first Lab meeting in Berlin (November 2019), the Solutions Lab recently reconvened in Mexico City (February 2020) for a meeting co-hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Here, work continued in several distinct workstreams that have been established over the last months, including:

Work Stream 1: Narrative and Vision 

This work stream outlines the Lab’s overall vision on sustainable infrastructure and sets the frame for successful collaboration. Considering the broad spectrum of sustainable infrastructure aspects, the Lab community agreed to focus on several important phases along the infrastructure life cycle (upstream and pipeline levels) as well as cross-cutting issues (gender and innovation).

Work Stream 2: THINK 20 (T20) Policy Briefs

Several Lab participants joined forces to write policy briefs, four of which have been accepted by the Think 20 Engagement Group and will inform discussions at Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency. Topics include (1) multilevel governance and green finance for sustainable infrastructure, (2) innovations in revenue and finance models to scale up quality and sustainable infrastructure investment, (3) the need for system change to recouple growth with sustainability and shared prosperity, and (4) policies and implementing rules for data driven, integrated, risk-based planning of sustainable infrastructure.

Work Stream 3: Upstream Policy Considerations

This group mobilised over a shared belief that true progress on the global goals remains elusive if sustainability is only addressed one project at a time. In addition, major efforts are needed “upstream”1  to spatially plan across sectors and prioritise those investments that best balance trade-offs among economic viability, resilience, ecosystems, social equity, and service delivery. Lab participants, including from WWF, Resilience Brokers and different UN agencies, are working on high-level guidelines for upstream planning and have driven innovation in evidence-based systems models for integrated planning, which the World Bank estimates to cut investment costs by up to 40%.

Work Stream 4: Ensuring Sustainability at Project and Pipeline Levels

In addition to upstream considerations, it is critical to integrate sustainability at the individual infrastructure project level. This workstream was initiated by Mexico’s National Infrastructure Fund (FONADIN), which asked the Solutions Lab for advice on the mainstreaming of sustainability considerations across FONADIN’s project pipeline. The Lab community since established itself as a “critical friends group” to support FONADIN’s ongoing cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and to document FONADIN’s experience with a view to foster peer-learning and capacity building for similar institutions around the globe. Against this backdrop, the workstream also focuses on the role of private capital for sustainable infrastructure investment.

Work Stream 5: Gender and Infrastructure

Inadequate energy, sanitation and transport infrastructure affects women disproportionately and presents a major hurdle to delivering the SDGs. To give African women a voice in infrastructure planning and to define standards for gender-responsive infrastructure, two Lab members co-founded the “African Network for Women in Infrastructure” (ANWIn). In cooperation with GIZ’s PIDA project, the Solutions Lab supports ANWIn in its mission to mainstream gender-equality into the pan-African Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

Work Stream 6: Innovation Space

Because business-as-usual will not deliver the Global Goals, the Solutions Lab embraces creative disruption, including through digital innovations. Therefore, this workstream was created as a catch-all-space to constantly feed new ideas into our work. Examples include a proposal submitted to the Global Infrastructure Hub’s “Infrachallenge” for a Sustainable Infrastructure Chat (SiChat) – an AI-powered app that mines social media to make marginalised societal voices on large infrastructure projects rise above the noise.  In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Innovation Space also serves to reconsider if and how current concepts and standards for sustainable infrastructure have to be adapted to increase resilience against future pandemics whilst delivering on the SDGs and Paris Agreement.

¹ Upstream Planning: government-led processes to determine land use plans at the national, sub-national, or municipal scale, including for specifc or large-scale infrastructure investments, based on national government strategic development visions and sub-national, multi-stakeholder group determined priorities.


Interested in Learning More about the Solutions Lab?

What all workstreams have in common is a bold vision for a more sustainable future and a pragmatic focus on infrastructure solutions that can be scaled across regions. Over the coming months, each will be creating both a 2-pager that summarises key concepts and solutions promoted as well as an actionable guidance note for practitioners that seek to implement the solutions promoted in their day-to-day work.

To regularly test and adjust the ideas developed, we also organise so-called “sounding board” events with a wide range of stakeholder groups around the world, including a group of Mayors in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (February 2020, see report) or representatives from the IMF and World Bank in a format jointly organised with The Brookings Institution (May 2020).

As co-hosts of the Solutions Lab, GIZ seeks to make the Solution Lab outputs as relevant as possible to our partners around the world and welcome any opportunity to discuss the Solutions Lab. Please feel free to reach out to us via the contact info below.

Additional Resources:

Related Events:



Should you be interested in learning more about the Solutions Lab, please reach out to:

Ms. Vanessa Bauer
  +49 6196 79-7424




Implementing Partners: