It’s a busy time for Francisco Pizarro as chair of the IGS Pan-American Regional Activities Committee and World Council Member. Here he shares his plans and challenges and where he thinks the focus should lie in encouraging the greater use of geosynthetics.
Hello Francisco! Please tell us a bit about your path to the IGS and current role.
My involvement with the IGS starts back in 2018 when I was invited to join the Chilean Chapter. At the time it was facing some challenges implementing the overall strategy from the corporate office so, together with fellow professionals from the industry, we were able to turn it around. We followed this with elections where I was elected as the new President. I had the honor of leading the Chapter for almost four years after which I was elected as an IGS Council member and chair of the IGS Pan-American Regional Activities Committee (RAC).
What’s going on in the Pan-American RAC at the moment? What are its priorities and plans?
Many things! Our first and most important priority is to reinforce the development of the current Chapters and help new ones grow. The IGS is a living organism and the more and diverse the Chapters, the better for achieving its mission.
Brazil and the US are leading the pack with a well-established structure aligned with their size and potential. As for the newer Chapters, the rise of Chile, Colombia and Mexico is great news since they represent a buoyant industry that is fighting for its space within the construction and engineering industry. We are also in the process of formalizing Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala Chapters.
Our second priority is implementing the IGS’s new strategy to help make the Society more sustainable, diverse and appealing to corporate and individual members. We have supported the drive for diversity through a series of initiatives with our Young Member Committee and Diversity Committee.
And last but not least: events. Initiatives like Educate the Educators (EtE) and the Ambassadors Program are at the core of the IGS strategy and we’ve successfully implemented these through the year. GeoAmericas 2024 is also around the corner so we look forward to seeing everyone in Toronto soon. We’re also looking to elect the host country of GeoAmericas 2028. We can’t talk too much about this yet but be prepared for something big!
What are the challenges and opportunities for the industry over the next few years, and the Pan-American region specifically?
We can say with a high level of confidence that the engineering and construction community highly value geosynthetics. That said, our job now is to create even more critical mass and this means ensuring geosynthetics are regarded in the same way as other construction materials. For example, if you ask a freshman student to name construction materials, geosynthetics probably won’t be first on their lips, but that’s what we need to aim for. We need to be even more aggressive in initiatives like EtEs since they are the gateway to raising awareness with the technical community.
The Pan-American community is no different to this challenge and fortunately the IGS is taking the right steps to reduce the current gaps.
How has the IGS evolved since you joined?
I think in how the current Council is making even more efforts in education, diversity, sustainability and corporate validation.
This is seen in various areas. For example if you take a look at the IGS website back in 2018 and compare it with the one we have today, there are interesting differences including the addition of a solid library with technical resources. We also have a technical committee working to build the Geosynthetics Handbook, a greater focus on sustainability with the development of the Sustainability Benefits Calculator, and the orientation to be a diverse and heterogeneous organization.
Tell us about your life outside the IGS.
I’m a civil engineer and currently the General Manager of Agru for Brazil and Chile. Agru is an Austrian company, a leader in the development of solutions based on thermoplastics and fluoropolymers. Within its extensive portfolio, geosynthetics have a starring role so my responsibility is also to develop part of this solution within the countries under my responsibility.
In the past I had the honor to lead the development of two companies in Latin America both in the erosion control and drainage geosynthetics market.
How do you see the geosynthetics industry developing?
As we expect to make geosynthetics a traditional solution for engineering and construction challenges, it’s important to set the technical benchmark of the solutions we want to become an alternative for.
The erosion control manufacturer needs to know it’s an alternative for shotcrete (sprayed concrete), the drainage manufacturer needs to understand it can replace granular solutions, the geotextile manufacturer needs to learn it can replace a relevant portion of soil, and so on.
I also see the industry making positive and aggressive moves for even higher standards with better and more sustainable raw materials, certified laboratories, high-end testing and serious research and development. Also, the collaboration between universities and private companies has never been better and is bringing the whole industry into a continuous virtuous cycle.
What do you think are the current key priorities for the geosynthetics industry, and why?
Definitely education, sustainability, corporate involvement and diversity.
I put all of them at the same level since they coexist and nurture one from the other.
What do you enjoy the most about being involved in the IGS?
Being around such a community of experts has been a blessing. It’s amazing how much they know and how passionate and didactic they are when they talk about their world or try to solve a technical problem. I also enjoy every meeting we have at the Pan-American Committee since it’s an opportunity to see how the Chapters evolve with the opportunities and difficulties that every country has.
The collaboration definitely shows that we are more than the sum of our parts.
What are you most looking forward to in the IGS calendar?
Next year we have GeoAmericas 2024 in Toronto. We’re very proud to host such an important event in our region. I’ve also just returned from the excellent 12th International Conference on Geosynthetics in Rome, Italy. It was a wonderful event with a particular highlight hearing the Giroud Lecture from Ennio Palmeira, who gave an impressive presentation.
Do you have any messages for members?
For our current members: thank you for your trust. You are the reason we do all this. And for the non-members: please join us. You’ll be amazed with the value this learned society can bring to you professionally not only for being surrounded by experts but also being able to access unique and proven knowledge.