Fostering a collective responsibility for climate change

When we talk about climate change, we’re referring to changes in our planet’s average temperature. While temperature fluctuations have always occurred naturally, and the ecosystem has adapted to them, what is concerning now is the consistent and relatively dramatic rise in global average temperatures caused by human activity.

Every human being on the globe will be affected, either directly or indirectly, by rising global temperatures. Many people will need to relocate, and some will become refugees. Weather changes will influence food supply chains, economic stability, demographic trends, and contribute to extreme weather conditions. As a result, an immediate, worldwide commitment to action is required to address both the near and long-term impacts of climate change.

The challenge before us is that the human population is still growing, and everyone requires places to inhabit, infrastructure to commute, and industries to manufacture materials for these necessities. According to the World Green Building Council, in 2019 buildings and construction were responsible for 39% of worldwide carbon emissions, with building materials accounting for over 11% of that figure.

There are three key areas we should consider if we are to pursue development without escalating climate change:

Investing in digital to reduce waste

The construction industry has tended to lag when it comes to investing in digital technologies. While there is no single technology that can tackle climate change, our experience has shown that digital engineering in tandem with digital collaboration, project management and smart technologies within projects can result in measurable savings on energy and material use which in turn lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

Other benefits of technologically advanced approaches are speeding up project delivery, reducing the incidence of rework and defects, and creating roles suitable for a more diverse and inclusive construction and engineering workforce.

Collaboration delivers positive outcomes

Our industry must accept diverse methods and procedures as a unified system and collaborate to get the best results. Understanding the growing demand for global infrastructure networking and interconnection is critical. 

One method is to strictly adhere to sustainable construction standards that promote an integrated approach. This type of collaboration would contribute to the development of more sustainable infrastructure, resulting in reduced carbon emissions and therefore contributing to the achievement of the science-based emissions reduction targets of the Paris Accord.

For designers and engineers, collaboration with builders and traders is also of the utmost importance. I know from experience that where there is awareness around sustainability many gains can be achieved at minimal cost. The secret is stepping away from siloed thinking.

As consultants, when we speak to the delivery team about undertaking an impact assessment before construction, if they ask why, we need to understand they may be concerned it will negatively impact their work. We need to talk that through – collaborate – and work towards the basic change of thought process that has historically viewed sustainability as an added cost, not a positive value-add and net benefit.

It is also vital that we focus our conversations about climate change and reducing the footprint of the built environment towards the trades end of the value chain as well as speaking up the chain to the client end.

Diversity and inclusion

The human brain is conditioned from an early age, and what is taught and practiced throughout childhood has a strong impact on how the individual develops as they mature. As a result, educating young people, especially girls about the science of climate change will help develop the solution-makers of the future.

It will also nurture a generational change, where the leaders and innovators of tomorrow will be more conscious of climate change and their responsibilities to care for the planet we all inhabit.

It’s no secret that construction has long lagged other major industries when it comes to inclusive practices. We must see companies adopting more inclusive practices and policies, as well as building a culture that embraces the many business benefits of diversity. This is what will attract and retain the abundance of ideas and perspectives that our industry so desperately needs. Companies must adopt well-thought-out diversity and inclusion strategies and commit to clear actions.

Anyone working in the engineering and construction industry needs to consider their impact. What kind of future do we want to establish for our children and what kind of legacy do we want to leave behind for our company and our industry? We need to work together as an industry and across the value chain to achieve our climate change goals and thereby create a better future for our planet.

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