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The World Economic Forum puts the climate crisis at the top of its list of challenges for business in 2021 and announces the ‘Net-Zero Challenge’. The most common buzzword for green action on the international stage is the decarbonisation of global supply chains, with road transport recognised as the main culprit for pollution. This is also where vehicle propulsion technologies are being developed. This is why electric cars or hydrogen engines are widely discussed at governmental levels and commented on in the media. However, transport is not the only sector in need of immediate change. The construction industry is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, we have been building the same way for over half a century. Bill Gates was right when he said that construction will be the most difficult challenge in the climate crisis. Do local governments and investors have a choice?
How to build cities in the future?
Urbanisation is one of the megatrends that will have the biggest impact on the real estate market over the next 5-10 years. The landscape of the construction industry in the COVID-19 era will be shaped by the continued growth of the urban population, which has increased from 71 to 75 per cent between 2000 and 2018, and is predicted to reach 77.5 per cent by 2030. The pandemic will only accelerate this phenomenon, contributing to the expansion of existing agglomerations and the formation of entirely new urban environments. What is the challenge facing local governments, urban planners, architects and private investors?
“Currently, business and local governments are facing two key challenges. These are the climate crisis and the weakening of national economies as a result of pandemics. Both situations require a specific response from governments, but also from businesses and the industrial and manufacturing sector. At the environmental level, we are talking primarily about efficiency. In the construction industry, but not only, the term ‘efficiency’ is becoming key to the sustainability strategies of both cities and companies. The energy efficiency of the construction process itself is just as important as the implementation of environmental solutions in the finished buildings. This is why conventional construction, which until recently was treated as an ethos and has not changed significantly for over 50 years, is beginning to share the property market with modular construction. Volumetric technology allows ready-made modules and buildings to be created in a factory, reducing the carbon impact on the atmosphere compared to traditional building work. In addition, modern modules mean saving money, and the profitability of investments in the era of pandemics is another factor that will determine the global economy for a long time to come, and thus the decisions of local governments and large undertakings of investors,” explains Dr Ewelina Woźniak-Szpakiewicz, DMDmodular.
Is sustainable construction possible?
The United Nations Climate Change 2021 conference brought promising declarations from representatives of major economies. The European Union, along with the UK, stand by their climate plan to become zero-carbon by 2050. South Korea and Japan have joined in these climate goals, and China, which currently emits the most greenhouse gases, wants to reduce its negative impact on the environment by no later than 2060. By contrast, the United States has calculated that 75 percent of the country’s industries and manufacturing could reach zero-carbon within the next few years.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest challenges to these governments’ ambitious plans is construction. Data confirms the phenomenon of waste of natural resources and environmental pollution by traditional design-build processes.
- According to a report by Transparency Market Research, the amount of construction waste generated each year worldwide will double to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.
- The 20th century saw a 23-fold increase in natural resources used for construction.
- Globally, there are more than 800 billion tonnes of natural resource ‘stockpiles’ tied up in the resulting structures, two-thirds of which are in industrialised countries alone.
- Construction (read traditional) is the second largest sector of the economy, after food production, responsible for the largest number of tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. For example, cement production alone accounts for around 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
- British researchers have calculated that the construction industry there is responsible for about 55 percent of the use of natural resources, and the construction of more buildings generates 50 percent of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the construction of a single house accounts for as much as 11 tonnes of construction waste.
“Our task as alternative construction engineering is to develop and offer customers 3D modular technology, which has a very low carbon footprint and a high recycling rate. For example, 85 per cent of the steel used in our production comes from recycled materials and we recycle 98 per cent of our gypsum cardboard waste back into plasterboard. In addition, around 90 percent of all modular building production is done under fully controlled factory conditions. That is why in the last two years the interest among investors – local authorities and private investors – has increased by almost 100 per cent. Modular construction is an alternative, wise and innovative supplement of the traditional construction sector, much more efficient and sensible in managing natural resources,” convinces DMDmodular’s president, Woźniak-Szpakiewicz.
Technology is not everything
DMDmodular estimates that in 2-3 years, the modular construction sector in Poland will exceed 1 per cent of the value of the entire construction market, i.e. about PLN 700 million. However, the potential of this business segment is much greater. In Great Britain, the share of modular technology in commercial and private properties is as high as 8 percent. Whereas in the United States it is approaching 5 percent. Poland is following the global trend, becoming an internal market for modular technology. It is building a strong position as a specialised producer and exporter using its own technology. Such projects as the world’s tallest modular hotel, for the realization of which a Polish company from Skawina near Krakow was chosen, are a proof of that. It also confirms that modules can successfully create prestigious architectural and construction projects.
In 2015, Marriott used modular structures in more than 70 projects in the US. Eric Jacobs, responsible for the development strategy of the chain, admits that thanks to modular construction they have reduced the construction time of their facilities by half a year, i.e. instead of 18-24 months they could open a hotel in less than a year. This technology is also being used by investors operating in the dormitory, co-living or single- and multi-family residential sectors. Wherever time, quality, ecology and reasonable costs count, modular construction is becoming an increasingly attractive choice.
Will we build more carefully after COVID?
2019 saw the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere since the Second World War. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a decrease in carbon dioxide release of around 5-10% from the previous year. However, in order to get on the path of a long-term CO2 reduction policy, such decreases should occur every year, not just when national economies close down. Therefore, the industrial and manufacturing sectors most responsible for pollution must now open up to solutions and innovations that will heal the global economy, but with a special focus on ecology.
“Recycling materials and producer responsibility for the construction waste generated is one thing, but the industry is ready for new solutions that have so far remained in the background. Mature markets – mainly the Netherlands and the UK – are consciously taking advantage of the innovation and flexibility of volumetric technology. Australia, the United States and China are also moving in this direction. In Poland, it is still necessary to educate and inspire architects, designers and investors as well as local authorities to make bold decisions in the spirit of ecology. The modular market means constructing even the most complex buildings in a more sustainable way at every stage. We need to start building more efficiently in Poland, and 2021 will be a breakthrough year for our industry,” Ewelina Woźniak-Szpakiewicz says.