Published 4 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: David Mark/Pixabay
With rising demands from multiple stakeholders to reduce construction’s environmental impact and accelerate its social benefits, a guide for the sector provides a handy checklist for construction companies to keep up with the times.
Headlines grab our attention as they are meant to do, but they often obscure the
information that really matters. Stories of SNC Lavalin
mask the social good of the construction industry and divert focus from the
industry’s other pressing social and environmental opportunities and risks.
First, we should recognize that the construction sector has a proud tradition of
being one of humanity’s oldest businesses; its work stands as testament to human
progress and arguably enhances our quality of life. Today, as society’s needs
evolve, the industry is transitioning to further improve its social, economic
and environmental impacts. Globally, the sector is grappling with its role, not only in corporate
social responsibility (CSR), but in sustainability — challenged by changing customer and
government expectations to go beyond business as usual.
A big driver behind this shift in sustainability demand is population growth and urbanization
around the world, which is in turn creating demand for construction and
infrastructure. That demand is expected to create pressure on strategic
resources essential for the building process — such as energy, raw materials and
water; not to mention pressure on human resources, as construction projects use
one of the world’s largest workforces. Increasing demand for building materials
can drive up costs and force businesses to innovate and look for
Construction — a very visible activity — is under the spotlight locally,
nationally and, in the age of social media, globally. Increasingly, it will be
pressured to align its impacts with society’s expectations. “Next generation”
will evaluate companies recruiting them at least in part on those organizations’
social performance. Anticipating trends like these can create sustainability opportunities
Client demand: Growing demand by customers, especially local governments and
other public sector organizations, for more sustainable and socially
Community and public expectations: Rising expectations from communities and
the general public that business contribute community and social benefits. As
construction is very visible to the public, these rising expectations are
Changing workforce: Labour shortages and millennial employees will create
pressure for improved social and environmental practices to attract, retain and engage
“Green” building: The market penetration of more sustainable buildings has
been growing over the last decade and is expected to continue. New research that
links office design to staff health, wellbeing and
is likely to drive interest in healthy buildings in future.
Climate change: Climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy is
likely to increase physical, regulatory and brand impacts.
Legislation and regulation: Changes to building codes and bylaws over the
next decade are expected to raise environmental and safety standards in order to
improve the social and environmental impacts of construction.
There is no getting around it. The construction industry is a big driver of
social change, and a big contributor to society’s environmental footprint. Here
are the stats:
Greenhouse gas emissions: The building sector is the single largest
contributor to climate change, with occupied buildings responsible for 30–40
percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A UNEP report on
Greening the Building Supply
states: “It has been estimated that in use, emissions account for over 80
percent of the total life cycle carbon emissions of buildings, with a
further 15 percent of emissions embodied in materials and around one percent
resulting from the construction process itself.” As more energy-efficient
buildings are constructed, these ratios will change and more focus will be
on construction materials and the construction process.
Energy use: The manufacture of building materials consumes 10 percent of
the global energy supply.
Materials use: The construction industry is the largest global consumer
of resources and raw materials, with half of all resources used in the
manufacturing of building products and components.
Water use: While buildings during use are responsible for over 10
percent of water used globally, indirectly the production of building
materials and construction accounts for a significant proportion of total
Waste generation: Building construction and demolition waste — including
asphalt, concrete, gravel, bricks, ceramics, plumbing, insulation, wood,
glass, metal and electrical fixtures — contributes about 40 percent of solid
waste streams. Typically, about 10 to 15 percent, and up to 45 percent for
some materials, of the total materials ordered for construction projects are
either unused or end up as waste.
Job creation and economic growth: In Canada, over one million men
and women are employed in the sector, roughly seven percent of Canada’s
workforce. Construction firms are significant contributors to the Canadian
economy: six percent of Canada’s annual GDP, over $75 billion, is generated
With rising demands from prospective employees, regulators, clients,
investors and others to reduce construction’s environmental impact and
accelerate its social benefits, a guide for the sector —
commissioned by the Canadian Construction Association — provides a handy
checklist of options construction companies can use to enhance social and
environmental impacts. Doing so will help companies:
win new business
build and maintain a positive image
attract, retain and motivate employees
improve risk management
build community goodwill
reduce operating costs
discover new ways of doing business
reduce regulatory delays
improve the value of the company to future owners
increase access to financing
Check out the
learn more about the risks and opportunities faced by the global construction
industry and about strategies companies can employ to address those issues and
to win in the emerging marketplace.
Published Oct 3, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST