Buildings, building buildings…(Edit: read the title slowly)

A post on the transition to a low (or no) carbon economy.

The construction industry has a huge role to play in achieving this transition. It currently consumes 50% of all energy, 50% of all water and 60% of all materials on the planet. 50% of climate change related gasses can be attributed to buildings. There is no question that this industry must drive and leads the transition.

For me most of the solutions offered so far rely on maintaining the existing ‘ways of working’ (business models, supply chain structures, investment arrangements) but with minor changes to reduce impacts or to mitigate risks. Concepts such as the circular economy at this stage appear to be merely tinkering at the edges of change, considering a product or material individually. The whole industry requires a total mind shift and economic shift in order to make the transition. The nature of construction and in particular infrastructure makes this shift particularly difficult as the ‘products’ (roads, buildings, bridges etc.) are complex, individual and are shaped by their unique geographical or topological requirements. However, there are some positive areas of change, whilst they don’t change the underlying economic model they are addressing some of technological issues.

“Recently three of the UK’s most innovative firms in their respective fields of development, housing management and modern construction have joined forces to help solve the UK’s housing crisis. Laing O’Rourke has signed a partnership with developer Stanhope that could see £2bn-worth of schemes developed using offsite methods over the next five years. The partnership, which also includes housing association Network Homes, plans to identify, develop and build out two major projects a year in London and the South-east in a bid to speed up housebuilding in the region.”

Using offsite and modular construction to waste and allow the materials to be re-used not just recycled at their end of life is a real step forward.

The question is, can this approach work if the rest of the industry doesn’t change, can one consortium prove the concept? What if new model doesn’t yield significant advantages because it still must compete in the traditional way? In my mind, business cannot go it alone, the construction model won’t be disrupted in the same way other industries have because the cost to entry is so high.

The ‘no growth’ or ‘de-growth’ agenda for the construction industry is a huge challenge, for a sector that is part of the basic definition of growth, can you have construction in a no growth world?

{more to come, this topic has really got me thinking….}

  1. Hawken, P., Lovins, E and Lovins, H, Natural, Capitalism – Creating the next Industrial Revolution, Little Brown and Co., 1999 369pp
  2. Brown MT, Bardi E. Handbook of energy evaluation. A compendium of data for energy computation issued in a series of folios. Folio #3: Energy of ecosystems. Center for Environmental Policy, Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville; 2001. Available at http://www.emergysystems.org/folios.php [accessed 02.06.09.
  3. http://www.laingorourke.com/media/news-releases/2018/a-game-changing-approach-to-boost-the-uks-housing-stock.aspx
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Village Life and a step in the right direction….

We are starting to see signs of progress with our Recycling Initiative in our small village in Hong Kong. We have got into a rhythm of running the event on the first Saturday of every month, with more and more people turning up every month we are starting to get into the swing of things.

Looking back, our first collection of recyclables was only enough to fill the back of mine and my neighbors car. 6 months on a we have a huge ‘8 tonne truck’ coming to pick at the recyclables directly from the village which is great.

We have also been in contact with a local recycling company who last week dropped off  2 new glass collection bins in the village as a pilot. If this is successful and we can demonstrate demand then they have said they would be willing to provide more types of bins as well..

If we can demonstrate demand and change behaviors in our small village then the potential to have an influence in other villages and towns in Hong Kong is huge. This the Leadership Challenge  I hope to address.

From a leadership perspective I think the lesson is to find like minded individuals and just start. Don’t over think things, just started and adapted as you go. We didn’t have a 10 page power point or 5 ‘SMART’ targets or KPIs, we just started… I hope to take some of this approach into my professional life as well.

“Action counts more than elegant plans and concepts”  Pfeffer & Sutton, (2000) 

 

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Plastic not so fantastic…

I am lucky enough to live in an incredible location in Hong Kong, combining both access to a beach (2mins) and access to the city (30-40mins).

I moved to the ‘other side’ of Hong Kong three months ago and have been struck by how beautiful and peaceful live can be here. One thing that has stood out however is the staggering about of waste that washes up on our shoreline, especially during typhoon season the beach is covered in broken polystyrene, empty bottles, the odd oil can and much more.

This is not waste washed in from outside of Hong Kong this appears to be local pollution. When you start to investigate further it becomes easier to understand why this occurs. I’ll start with the most common item I find on the beach, single use plastic water bottles.  According to Urban Spring, Hong Kong purchases 1.5 million plastic water bottles every day, and 12 out of 13 of these bottles are not recycled, that is rate of less than 10%. For a country and city that is less than 300km2 that, in my opinion is staggeringly poor. London for example, according the Guardian has a recycling rate of 32%, the UK on average is over 40%.

HK Recycles, a local recycling non-profit states that the recycling rate of plastic was at 11% in 2015, compared to 63% in 2012, one theory is that the decrease in oil prices has led to a decrease in demand for recycled plastic as the price of virgin plastic is comparable, or if not, lower than recycle plastics.

However, it must be more than just price pressures preventing Hong Kong from recycling plastics more. Lack of facilities must also play a part, as well as education and habits. Within my small village we have two sets of small recycling bins, these bins are always full and are far too small for the demand.

There is hope however, Companies like Urban Spring are trying to disrupt the way we drink water in Hong Kong, providing free at point of use water in multiple locations around the city, effecting reducing consumption. Bring your bottle to one of their “Wells” are you can have clean water for free. Other non-profits or purpose business are also beginning to change the way Hong Kong looks at its waste issues and with the Chinese Government imposing a ban on “foreign garbage” in July, which prevents Hong Kong from exporting its waste to the mainland is already having a impact locally. Hopefully this is just the start of a wider change to waste and resource use here in Hong Kong and China. It will be interesting to see how business responds to the changes in the market

As part of my own sustainability journey I have joined forces with my neighbours and the local community and to run the first recycling evening in our village last week. We swapped beer and cakes for plastics, card, metal and glass recyclables. It was a great way to get to know our neighbours and make new friends. The recycling was then taken to the nearest town for collection by the government. In the grand scheme of things, it is nothing, but having seen the enthusiasm from the village, we are going to turn it into a regular event. If change can happen in our village it could happen in other villages too, I hope.

Leadership should come from government, but also from the people too.

10th November 2017

Urban Spring Hong Kong

China’s Import Ban

London Mayor on Plastic Recycling

Hong Kong Waste Reduction Consultancy Report

Unspoken Trusths about Hong Kong Recycling