Green Sky Thinking: Can construction really be sustainable?

The construction industry has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only if it is open to innovation and change with a more holistic approach.

“It is predicted that the green construction industry will be worth 290 billion dollars by 2017”, said Victoria Ball, Sustainability Strategist at David Ball Group, at a recent Green Sky Thinking panel debate, in which seven industry professionals came together to discuss the all-important question, “Can construction really be sustainable?”

The panel of industry experts tackled this golden question, discussing the development of innovative products, the role of codes and standards and how to embed sustainability throughout projects and company strategy.

Victoria discussed how vital it is to embed sustainability into company strategy suggesting, “The green economy has massive growth potential, especially for those in the construction sector, with building analysts suggesting building revenue will rise by 23% annually in the next three years1 so it would be foolish not to embrace sustainability both for the good of society, the environment and for the company’s own bottom line. Recently, a Goldman Sachs report discovered that companies that pay attention to social and environmental government policies have a 25% higher stock value than their non-sustainable equivalents2, and a UCL study revealed that companies listed as ‘green’ were 16% more productive than their direct competitors3.”

In relation to adopting sustainable practices Dr Mike de Silva, Sustainability Manager at Crossrail said he was encouraged by what the industry has done so far in regards to innovative ‘green’ design. He suggested that on a global scale we must consider working more closely with nature. He says:

“Over the last 100 years we have become disjointed from our natural environment. If we look back at old architecture, they focused on natural cooling by working alongside nature, rather than against it. The industry has already begun to use these innovations in technologies, however we must start talking about biomimicry and how we can adopt those concepts. Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that draws inspiration from nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. If we use biomimicry here, we pose the idea of how the human body cools itself, by sweating, and this is an area the industry is already trying to incorporate into future building designs by mimicking evapotranspiration.



“Because of a move to digital and connected technology through the Internet of Things, big data is helping companies to exchange information. This sharing of information is now becoming common practice between companies and even buildings, which presents a real opportunity for progress within the industry.”

Innovation and advances in technology play a large role in the progression of construction becoming a more sustainable industry. Investment groups also recognise that construction plays an important role in sustainability and a recent study by Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing suggested that 71% of the population are interested in sustainable investment. Dr Mike de Silva says:

“The millennial generation are more interested in social sustainable investment and this is important because by 2020 over one third of the US population will be of this generation, and that is not untypical of western Europe. These millennials will be in positions of influence, in sustainable organisations, or individual investors, which will change the way we see sustainability and the environment.”

David Ball, Founder of David Ball Group also sat on the panel, he believes that the construction industry is dedicated to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, but there needs to be a holistic approach if current practices are to change. He said, “The debate was a great opportunity for industry leaders across the various sectors to come together to voice their opinions. It was also excellent to see active planning for the future, by working together to come up with potential solutions to solve the problem of sustainable construction and the opportunities that it presents.”

Green Sky Thinking is a week long, London-wide events programme for built environment and property professionals highlighting innovative practice on how we ‘design in’ sustainability for London.

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