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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