September 9, 2004
Upward price pressure opens door to new products, processes
Innovation driving change in construction
The incredible rate of introduction and adoption of new technology in Canada is inescapable. Its impact is seen in everything from work to recreation, from children’s toys to cars. No industry can or has escaped it—the construction industry is no exception.
Information technology, in the form of project management, design tools, e-mail and the Internet, has managed to nudge the construction industry—an industry built on long-standing practices— into new ways of doing business. The broad adoption of computer-based tools has set the stage for a myriad of converging factors that, together, could expedite innovation into this market exponentially.
Canada’s agreement to sign the Kyoto Accord is unquestionably one of the driving factors bringing major change to the Canadian construction industry. Government departments have been challenged to find ways to reduce emissions and as part of this effort are requesting tools that will create a catalyst for the construction industry to build more sustainable buildings—buildings that take advantage of a variety of factors that in the end will reduce the environmental impact of each project.
Though originally developed and marketed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEEDTM—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is experiencing rapid adoption in Canada. This is due in part to the federal government’s recognition of the potential this rating system could have on the market and its support of the creation and introduction of a Canadian version. As a result, a variety of provincial and municipal governments have established policies that require new buildings to be certified to a minimum rating of LEED Silver.
This lofty goal requires the early involvement in the project of many professionals including: architects, designers, engineers (mechanical, electrical, structural), specification writers, general contractors, project managers, estimators, energy efficiency coordinators, key sub-contractors, financial managers and representatives of occupant groups. This team must work together in a holistic approach to building design and construction. The goal is that by bringing these professionals together at such an early stage, ideas and approaches can be integrated that might not have been considered within the traditional construction project model.
Undoubtedly such policies are challenging the construction industry to reexamine its processes and products. The result is a significant learning curve in understanding this new process, how to achieve the elements outlined within the rating system and what components are required to achieve the expected rating level. Such a sweeping review is the foundation of innovation in any industry.
This innovation is far reaching, extending to the global community. The increased focus on environmental and social contributions has brought the international business community together under the banner, World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Together their goal is to find ways to provide the world with what is needed today without compromising the needs of future generations. The framework outlines a need for business decisions to be made considering three pillars of sustainability— social, economic and environmental impact. No longer is business to be only profit driven. At the same time, governments must determine how to balance the need to grow their economies with the impact on the environment and the well being of citizens.
Change this fundamental is felt at all levels. The opportunities it offers have been recognized at the international level and is having an impact locally. E-mail and the Internet are providing an inexpensive conduit for small- and medium-sized businesses to readily seek and share processes and technologies. Given the nature of the construction industry, which is comprised primarily of such businesses resulting in an extremely fragmented and locally driven industry, the benefit is immediate. Communication tools have brought the Canadian construction industry closer together allowing industry information to circulate rapidly and cost-effectively. No longer does the size of a company dictate opportunity. Small business is rising to the challenge buoyed by technology.
Although the major drivers are primarily environmental and social, increased energy costs and the upward pressure on the price of building materials is the economic component. This upward price pressure encourages the industry to re-examine products and processes, with the goal of keeping costs down also opening the door to innovation.
The last element in this mix of market factors is the introduction of an objective-based building code. The new building code should allow for flexibility, creativity and innovation without the obligation to use particular procedures or solutions.
The increased access to information, costs, environmental and social pressures, the availability of comparative measurement tools, as well as a new objective-based building code are just some of the elements that together have set the stage for the introduction of more change than the construction industry has seen in the last century.
Sharon Daly is the director of Marketing Communications with the Cement Association of Canada. She serves on the Board of Directors with the National Capital Green Building Association (NCGBA) as chair of the Communications Committee. Until five years ago when she joined the association, Daly spent 15 years in the high technology industry in Ottawa with companies including Apple, Corel and Nortel.
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