It is time to extend the useful life of the things we make, build, and use, and civil engineers play a crucial role in this task

October 28, 2022 03:06 pm | Updated October 29, 2022 03:34 pm IST

Reducing construction waste is a priority

Reducing construction waste is a priority

REDECON - or the Recent Developments in Design and Construction Technologies - is a national seminar and exhibition brought over by the Association of Consulting Civil Engineers (India) Bangalore Centre.  The event attempts to address various present-day challenges of serious concern to society with respect to proper housing and related industries, construction technology developments, water, solid waste management, climate changes and statutory requirements to be followed in building meaningful spaces. The pool of ideas shared by industry experts from all over India in the seminar can form a decisive tool to transcend impediments and provide effective solutions to the urban and civil engineering challenges. This year the topic for REDECON, to be hosted soon, will feature a host of aspects related to sustainable development.

The form of a structure inspires both architects and engineers, but their educational background have different focus regarding form and functionality. Architects generally tend to focus on the form of the structure, of course with a few exceptions, on asymmetrical geometries and organic shapes. For most architects the approach as well as the goal is the manifestation of the building in its entirety. The load-bearing elements then are only one aspect of many. These must be thoughtfully handled to achieve beautiful and meaningful buildings. On the other hand, the civil engineer’s focus is on the structural safety of the end user, stability and resilience and in general on the functionality of the structure with a few exceptions. Not surprisingly, the common approach of a Civil Engineer is to bring synthesis between modern technology and engineering practices more tending towards optimisation. The time has now come to integrate Sustainability Principles in the design and other life cycle phases of a building and this is inevitable as we go forward with the Global Agenda 2030.

Scaling up circular economies through sustainable infrastructure

Traditionally, industrial economies relied on a single model of resource consumption: a linear economic model that follows a “take-make-dispose” pattern. This has led to excessive and uncontrolled resource extraction and waste generation, exerting significant pressure on the environment. 

Resource extraction and GHG emissions will continue to increase in the future as more infrastructures are built to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly urban population.

Resource extraction and GHG emissions will continue to increase in the future as more infrastructures are built to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly urban population. | Photo Credit: AP

Construction is one of the most resource-intensive and high-carbon sectors. The amount of natural resources used in buildings and transport infrastructure increased multifold in 1900 and 2010 and approximately 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by the construction sector. Following the linear growth model, both resource extraction and GHG emissions will continue to increase in the future as more infrastructures are built to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly urban population. An estimated 75% of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 remains to be built. The excessive global resource extraction leads to ecosystem degradation, sediment erosion, and biodiversity loss. It is estimated that resource extraction and processing are correlated with more than 90% of biodiversity loss and make up about half of the global GHG emissions. These impacts also have serious consequences on water and food security and hence, on human well-being. 

In addition to the damage caused by extractive processes and GHG emissions, infrastructure is also a major source of solid waste and other forms of pollution. In developed countries, for example, 40% of solid waste comes from the construction, maintenance and demolition of buildings

The linear economic model has clear human health and ecological limits, and there is an urgent need for systemic changes. Reaching the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement and reducing stress on the environment can only be achieved by combining scaled-up efforts on renewable energy and energy efficiency with a fundamental shift to a circular economy. 

A circular economy is one in which “the value of products, materials, and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible”, and resource extraction and waste generation are minimised. Circular economic models help to decouple economic growth from resource consumption by extending the useful life of the things we make, build, and use and by closing material loops so that “waste” from certain products and processes are used as inputs into others (also called industrial symbiosis).

Transitioning to circular economic models will require infrastructure that is fit for purpose. Infrastructure must be planned, built, and operated in a way that maximises synergies between infrastructure systems to enable industrial symbiosis and closed loops. Shifting towards more shared ownership models can also help reduce the resource intensity of infrastructure systems. Successful implementation of these concepts requires strategic planning during the early phases of the infrastructure lifecycle, “upstream” of the projects. In conclusion, Decarbonisation is the only way forward.

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