40 (135) 2019
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Real Estate & Construction

May the construction industry please care more about our planet?

By Janusz Allina, property consultant, Gleeds Polska
Header janusz allina


The opportunity for a responsible construction sector

With continually increasing number of reports evidencing the impact of human activity to the earth’s climate and ecosystems, it is vital to consider the role that we have to play in the construction sector.  

As sustainability and corporate social responsibility are deeply rooted in Gleeds Polska approach, we have always taken care of our teams’ knowledge of the impact we make on our environment. But now we know we have to act faster and more effectively.

We recently invited respected environmental expert Marcin Popkiewicz to discuss the impacts of climate change. It also helped us in development of our internal awareness-raising information strategy for our staff.

We believe that small steps, such as rethinking habits, caring about our individual impact, if made by everybody, could be meaningful.

As individuals, how can we help minimise the impact of our everyday activities?

We all should be aware of our role in the environment and the impact which the business, that provides us a livelihood, can have on the community we live in and in a broader perspective - the planet.

As an industry we need to give greater consideration to how the places we work, live and learn in, affect the environment. We need to be more attentive to the source of used materials, improving efficiency of existing building maintenance and implementation of temperature stability solutions that would make construction process and building operating more sustainable and environmental-friendly.

Let’s realise that as we build our everyday life space – places we call home, school, workplace, we must not build it at the expense of the Earth.

We observe and appreciate changes implemented on our market – turning existing post-factory buildings into residential lofts, performing modernisations instead of demolishment and re-building. For example, Warsaw’s Q22 office tower’s construction was supported by the re-use of 1,500 tonnes of steel and 25,000 tonnes of concrete rubble, which came from other construction sites across Warsaw, including the demolition of Mercure Chopin hotel that had previously occupied the site.

Strong sustainability credentials are now expected of built assets and we are seeing increasing demand for certification of projects under the globally recognised LEED and BREEAM standards. That is why Gleeds Polska has developed its experienced sustainability & green building team of qualified assessors and advisors.

The construction industry is not the leader in promoting and applying sustainable solutions, adequate to the current environmental challenges. And yet it remains among leading polluters and greenhouse-gas emitters, as demonstrated below.

Chart 1. Waste generation by economic activities and households

Source: Eurostat, Waste generation by economic activities and households, EU-28, 2016 (%),https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=File:Waste_generation_by_economic_activities_and_households,_EU-28,_2016_(%25).png, processed by Gleeds Polska

With its 0.6 billion tons of waste, the industry is in first place, taking the 36% stake in total waste produced in Europe. The construction industry uses 1.8 billion tons of primary raw materials (25% of European demand), uses 40% of Europe’s generated power (including during the buildings’ operational period) and is the source of 36% of total CO2 emissions in the EU (according to Circular Construction in Practice report by Polish Circular Hotspot, May 2019). These figures may be frustrating, as we realise that the construction sector is responsible for such an impact on the natural environment globally.

On the other hand, this situation leaves us with great potential for improvement. Any reduction of the environmental impact of the industry will translate to substantial results. Therefore, it is worth of considering how circular economy model could drive a real change.

Chart 2. Linear model of construction process

Source: Polish Circular Hotspot’s report Circular Construction in Practice, May 2019; processed by Gleeds Polska

Chart 3. Circular model of construction process

Source: Polish Circular Hotspot’s report Circular Construction in Practice, May 2019; processed by Gleeds Polska

What does construction industry owe to the planet?

The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction 2018 Global Status Report details that as an industry, we should be moving towards a zero-emissions, efficient and resilient building and construction sector. To aim for this, the sector must consider how to transition from a linear to circular model, through

  • investigating how product reuse and recycle can be enabled

  • working out new adequate business models

  • returning materials back to the Earth or, back into industry

  • developing a strategy for, and promoting conditions for, the reuse of materials to enhance resource productivity

Polish Circular Hotspot’s report Circular Construction in Practice, issued earlier this year, highlights the obstacles that the construction industry needs to overcome when developing its circular strategy.

Chart 4. Barriers to overcome on the path to Circular Construction

Source: Polish Circular Hotspot’s report Circular Construction in Practice, May 2019; processed by Gleeds Polska

The journey to a circular construction model will not happen overnight. As a sector we need to embark on the following to move forward:

  • Educate: Increase awareness of the necessity for change and promotion of best practice

  • Regulate: Identify the scale of the problem and agree a unified response

  • Provide cross-sector financial incentives for reuse and recycling

  • Show active government-led support for pro-circular innovation, new technologies (especially for recycling)

  • Create a unified, common approach across the sector where a collaborative effort influences change

Working towards a common goal for a better future

Without a pro-community, pro-environment attitude, business may become just a callous, thoughtless profit-making machine. We all should feel responsible for Mother Earth, for its nature, future generations and all other species that are dying out and change our approach. We owe everything to our planet and we need to look further than financial value alone, developing a strategic response to meet our obligations as a sector. This approach needs to be a unified response, from governments, businesses and regulatory bodies to help drive the change. The goals can only be achieved when the game is a team game.

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