Contribution of International Road Federation (IRF) on Innovation

Sybille RUPPRECHT IRF - Gearing up for a Decade of Innovation

by Sybille RUPPRECHT, Director General, International Road Federation (IRF)

Whilst unprecedented technological advances opened up new frontiers of opportunity, the first ten years of the 21st century also heralded an unprecedented series of economic, social and environmental upheavals.

Over the next decade, our industry has a crucial role to play at the forefront of efforts to ensure that society responds responsibly and proactively to these new challenges of our times.
As never before, roads must be the drivers of not only continued economic progress but also the environmental and social dimensions that are the underpinnings of truly sustainable development.

Adapting to evolving societal and market conditions

For IRF and its membership, three major themes will mark the new decade, and will be key to our continued progress and prosperity - both as an industry and as committed global corporate citizens:
-- The Environment
-- Road Safety
-- Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)
IRF addresses each theme through a number of dynamic approaches and innovative technologies.

High levels of competition have made it imperative to innovate in order to retain market share - and this trend has been further spurred by growing public and political sensitivity on environmental issues, and the policy and regulatory impacts that have come" in its wake.

In parallel, escalating demands on the build environment and landscape, coupled with dramatic declines in available funding resources, have encouraged governments to address problems of saturated roads by improving the efficiency of existing networks, rather than systematically extending them. The advent of ITS has been a vital enabling factor in this respect and is also having major positive repercussions on traffic management and accident prevention. In turn, it is becoming increasingly evident that meaningful improvements in road safety can only be achieved if all the components of a road transport system are addressed in a coordinated manner.

Simple, cost effective tools and strategies

Whilst complex, the interrelationships introduced above can nevertheless be addressed immediately and desisively through simple, cost effective tools and strategies fo the kind promoted by IRF through its membership. Each IRF initiative serves as a catalyst to raise awareness on problems, promote practical action, demonstrate the latent 'triple bottom line' benefits and, most of all, inspire further innovation throughout the sector and beyond.

For example, in the field of the Environment, IRF's current flagship project is CHANGER, which stands for "Calculator for Harmonised Assessment and Normalisation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Roads". CHANGER corresponds to a longstanding need on the part of industry specialists for a comprehensive and reliable tool for assessing, with a view to reducing, direct emissions produced during road construction.

Although simple, easy to use and accessibly priced, CHANGER carries tremendous promise in terms of its potential to mobilise a global sector around efforts to achieve aggregate reductions in greenhouse gases on a scale commensurate with the level and urgency of the challenges facing our planet.

Such initiatives illustrate not only the growing determination of IRF members to be a major 'part of the solution', but also the virtually limitless reservoir of imagination and innovation within our industry that can be tapped for the common good.

With membership including leading companies in 86 countries spread across the globe, one can only begin to imagine the cumulative potential of current initiatives like under road surface heat exchanger systems to exploit the thermal energy potential of asphalt, reflective sheeting that advantageously replaces electric road sign lighting, optimisation of route planning through strategic environmental impact assessments, new efficient pavement recycling techniques and the constant development of low carbon road construction materials.

The list is virtually endless and is complemented by a host of similar initiatives in the fields of ITS and Road Safety, including Intelligent Speed Adaptation, Traffic Monitoring Technologies and Collision Avoidance and Pedestrian Protection Systems.

Holistic vision and cross-sectoral approach

In essence, the road transport system in the next decade will be more efficient and user-friendly, more environmentally sustainable and safer thanks to our growing arsenal of new techniques and innovative technologies. Once again, everything is interlinked. Fewer deaths and casualties on our roads clearly represent vital progress on the socio-economic front, but the new innovations are, in parallel, enabling the improved measurement and mitigation of environmental impacts as well as generally enhancing mobility to keep pace with growing economic and demographic challenges.

The road ahead

Whilst our industry can look ahead with optimism, there can be no room for complacency.

The next decade carries many key challenges that will need to be addressed and overcome if we are to build successfully upon the impetus of the last ten years.

In the field of the environment, for example, regulation (notably within the European Union) concerning recycling materials could currently be argued to be too stringent to provide optimum incentives for innovation.

Similarly, bidding procedures need to take greater account of the additional initial development costs often involved with the promotion of new products and techniques.

In the field of accident prevention, the main barriers to progress remain continued deficiency of political will and frequent failure to integrate the road safety component into transport development projects from the outset.

Meanwhile, the undoubted promise of ITS continues to be hampered by a distinct absence of the kind of positive awareness campaigns needed to rise above unfounded public and political suspicion and bring home the numerous positive impacts of the new innovations on transportation systems as a whole.

IRF and its members will address such issues proactively over the coming decade so that our industry continues to evolve responsibly and dynamically, in line with changing times and the fresh challenges and opportunities they bring.