People in the construction industry need to concentrate on issues such as sustainability, reducing waste generation and avoiding excess resource consumption.
We are a few decades into discussing sustainability and modern civilisation, from the time of the 1972 book “Limits to Growth” initiated by the Club of Rome, the book “Only One Earth” published during the 1972 U.N. Stockholm Conference on Human Environment and the 1992 “The Earth Summit” at Rio de Janeiro convened by the United Nations Conference of Environment and development (UNCED).
Much has been discussed towards reducing our common carbon footprint and there are both hopes and despairs. Following 20 conferences between the world leaders, the last one held at Paris during December 2015, there are some signs of lowering the carbon emissions now, at least in a few countries.
However, there are no common conclusions about how to achieve sustainability, despite the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the intergovernmental list of 169 tasks which aims to transform the world by 2030. In countries such as India, which are predicted to grow into half-urban population by 2040, many of the goals set by international bodies appear rather ambitious, given our present expectations of economic development, modes of governance and kind of politics.
Role to play
What roles can people in the building industry – consultants, constructors and promoters – play in such situations? Every other option we have can be questioned either on embodied energy, waste generation or resource consumption. This is where we learn lessons form the case of stainless steel products.
They are high on all the above three counts, yet can be justified on the basis of their long life. There are homes in India, where couples who got married 30 years ago continue to use the stainless steel vessels then got as wedding gifts.
Just like the longer life span increasing the efficiency of a product across time, minimising the material consumed, reducing the time of construction, increasing the clear span of space, ease of erection, possibility of decommissioning it and all such small criteria together can make a building eco-friendly.
Building a modern factory with an advanced technology is a case in point, where otherwise it is difficult to count on factories as eco-friendly.
Even in factories, shorter spacing between supports can be cheaper but can affect machine placement or production. Likewise, airports, conference facilities, hangers, exhibition complexes and such others demand large span structures to be erected in short time. All these are also as important as an institution or office complex, deserving our design attention towards making them green buildings.
Today, using precise pre-engineered structural design, customised profile of steel members, off-site manufacturing and on-site erection using fewer men and machinery, we are able to construct large factories at shorter time and reduced cost.
These measures may not make them as eco-friendly as an earthy cottage, but would ensure the structure is more efficient than the conventional one. We cannot reach the ideal right away, but achieving improvements, however small they are, could lead us there.