How sustainable is the construction industry?
| August 27, 2021
A recent global survey conducted by SAP states that engineering and construction industries across multiple sectors are showing definitive progress toward sustainability in the design phase with 47% of respondents saying sustainability is top-of-mind or a significant concern for executives.
One reason for this progressive thought could be the new generation of workers who are deeply committed to sustainability. The three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) are at the heart of global efforts to make the built environment green, clean and socially responsible.
According to the World Green Building Council, the construction industry generates about 39% of the world's carbon emissions while consuming a massive amount of raw materials and natural resources. But as the survey showed, despite conflicting goals and complex challenges, it is becoming more sustainable. More industry players realize that their completed buildings need to reduce energy consumption, which can only be done with sustainable design.
Another reason is the rapid advancements in technology that are addressing construction problems. The industry, known for being traditional and slow to change, is now embracing high-tech and user-friendly software and products that can help deliver projects on time with less labor and in a safer manner. Construction industry leaders are looking at developing innovative projects in the future and deploying new technology to transform the way we live and work.
The construction industry has used building information technology, or BIM, to create 3D renderings to replace the older 2D technical drawings. Combining BIM and virtual design offers more precise measurements and accuracy of already-built environments that reduce the scope of errors. New products are improving on older technology and leveraging it in novel ways, leading to less rework, which has a positive effect on project timelines and budgets.
New technology also includes a visual representation of the job site using artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and 360-degree cameras. AI helps teams to understand and map the project development without humans. At the same time, VR allows them to interact with a 3D model and understand the spatial relation of the elements in the mix. These have combined with the notion of environmental sustainability to create an energy-intensive construction industry.
Increasing and stringent regulations on health, safety, and sustainability are a cause for review and concern for all industries but perhaps more so for traditional sectors like construction. There is a need to develop structures that are scalable, greener and technologically more advanced. This means focusing on reducing energy costs and carbon footprint while using energy-intensive heavy equipment. These competing pressures need to be addressed ASAP, along with trying to control costs and maintain efficient processes with multiple suppliers and subcontractors. Managing the complexity of construction projects is challenging throughout the lifecycle. Increased process complexity is an obstacle to meeting sustainability goals, especially within supply chains.
Along with increasing government regulations, other factors influencing sustainable change are the need to be more cost-efficient and get more visibility through the lifecycle of the process. As the cost of raw materials continues to climb, controlling these costs is a crucial consideration for construction companies. At the moment, the high price of sustainable materials is a hindrance. If these are lowered, then the industry can reach its goals to improve sustainability efforts further.
To monitor sustainable practices in the processes as well as with their subcontractors and supply chains would require more visibility which can only be addressed with advanced technologies. With the increasing demand for more eco-friendly structures, the investment in software and the right tools is a way to move away from traditional construction methods and sustainable business practices.
To overcome these barriers, the industry is creating a long-term strategy that takes into consideration the costs and current labor shortage issues while considering sustainability in every process from start to finish. They are also focusing on fair humanitarian practices with all subcontractors and suppliers, as well as sourcing materials ethically and ensuring labor standards. Architects and engineers are using technology to design more energy-efficient buildings and, in the process, putting pressure on construction companies to digitize as well.
As we see a focus on new technology and innovation, sustainability is changing the construction industry globally. Construction, energy and technology industries have become intricately connected in an era of transformation on a scale never seen before. As they realize that sustainable choices are good for business, more engineering and construction companies will adopt sustainable practices and set sustainability commitments for their business. Now is the time to balance the bottom line with the green line in the engineering and construction industry.
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