Building more sustainably: how construction can change

As construction workers return to work after shutdowns halted all but the most essential buildings for months in many parts of the world, we should all reflect on how the industry can and should exist in a way more sustainable.

Human ingenuity has taken us from the simplest Bronze Age constructions to towering feats like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but now we need to think urgently about the impact of the buildings we work and live in on the world around them.

It’s no secret that today’s construction industry has a huge environmental impact. It is only in recent years that its environmental footprint has become a priority. For centuries, innovation within the construction industry has simply followed a cycle of better tools, leading to access to stronger or cheaper materials, and fewer workers needed.

The construction industry is affected by many trends, many of which, such as urbanization, may themselves slow down or change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that climate change is the biggest driver of all right now and will be for years to come.

Yet a new wave of innovation means the construction industry could finally move with a more sustainable tide.

After all, construction can also be part of the answer to the question of climate change. Now that the environmental record of its most commonly used materials, such as steel and cement, is increasingly scrutinized and the workforce is aging and shrinking, the industry must seek new solutions that can make it more sustainable, productive and resilient. to climate change.

Prefabrication is one of the construction methods that has the greatest potential to promote more sustainable construction. When I say prefabrication, I use it as a catch-all term for assembling all or part of a building in a factory or other manufacturing site, and transporting it to the job site where the structure is to be sited. It should be seen not only as a building technique, but also as an approach to transforming the entire building life cycle. Prefabrication can address faulty construction practices that negatively affect industry productivity, economics, and environmental impact – including frequency of design changes, lack of industry productivity, and poor construction quality. final product.

By using more prefabrication, the construction industry can unlock many gains by reducing the use of natural resources and waste. Buildings use fewer materials, are built faster, and have fewer defects. This method produces up to 90% less waste and, thanks to higher final quality, the resulting buildings are up to 55% more energy efficient (according to a 2018 paper by researchers at Victoria University of Wellington) .

Additionally, prefabrication uses more wood than traditional construction methods, which rely more on steel and cement. Wood is renewable and represents a carbon storage material whose increasing adoption alongside prefabrication techniques, especially in high-rise buildings, can help reduce the overall carbon footprint of buildings.

These characteristics are, in my view, real sources of sustainable long-term competitive advantages compared to traditional techniques.

In this ongoing effort to reduce the environmental footprint of the value chain, there are multiple exciting opportunities. These include developers of prefabricated homes, as the market for individual prefabricated homes is set to grow across the world. Since this part of the market depends on specific markets and segments, ranging from highly customized luxury homes to large-scale development programs encompassing more standardized living solutions, the key success factors are slightly different in each geography and segment. . In each of them, players can create profitable models, combining local taste with cutting-edge technologies and flawless operations management.

Prefabricated kitchens, bathrooms or ducted air conditioning are gaining importance to improve the productivity of projects alongside dedicated building materials, especially wood-based projects. At the same time, cutting-edge software is widely digitizing the construction industry – linking pure design to procurement and project management. Woodworking machinery, from forestry to factory, will grow in number and complexity to support value chain transformation and represent a reliable area to seek future growth.

As we emerge from lockdown into the new normal, I expect the construction industry to enter a thriving new era through the adoption of resource-efficient construction techniques, new software and material solutions. carefully selected. This phase of transformation will be driven by the momentum towards a more sustainable future of all humanity.