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Building a sustainable future: Lessons from the construction industry

Delve into our April newsletter, now republished as a blog post, where we spotlight the construction industry's potential to drive positive climate change. We explore three key material efficiency strategies alongside sector shifts like digitization and enhanced connectivity.

WhatAVenture team during a workshop.

Hi, Max here. I was recently at the Green Tech Days meet Future of Building event, and on my way home, I had to pick up some personal building supplies. Having loaded my reduced Co2 cement bags into the car, I asked myself, 'What difference will this make when 2.500.000.000 tons of Co2 are still emitted yearly by cement production?' According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the construction and building sector accounted for 37% of energy and process-related Co2 emissions globally, making it one of the main polluters on our planet. But what about if we flip this narrative on its head? The industry suddenly becomes one of the biggest potentials we have to make a positive change for our climate.

Green Tech Days meet Future of Building

Material efficiency will play a vital role in building a better future

Half of the buildings that will exist by 2050 are not built. This means we have an excellent opportunity to act and decarbonize the building sector, argues Ligia Noronha,UN Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the UN Environment Program. How? Adopting a life-cycle approach reduces embodied carbon from building materials and avoids emissions. This approach can be broken down into three key strategies:

1. Circularity

By introducing circularity into the economy, we can reduce or even avoid extracting and producing new raw materials. For example, with Imerys, we have worked on projects reclaiming industrial and construction waste for upcycled use in sustainable building materials.

2. Ethically produced bio-based building materials

By using materials like timber, bamboo, and biomass, we could take 40 percent off 2050 emissions in some places. For example, our venture, Wood_Space, makes modular houses made of timber. Despite timber still only accounting for a fraction of the entire material space, it has a strong growth.

3. Improve building materials and processes

By changing formulas and processes, we can reduce or eliminate the embodied emissions from materials like cement, iron, and steel, which are significant. For example, Wienerberger AG, with their project, GreenBricks, using electric kilns powered by green electricity to decarbonize the industrial production of bricks. Prefabricating certain parts or entire units also increases sustainability through reduced waste generation.

A prefabricated Wood_Space delivered on site

Additional major sector shifts defining the future of the industry

In addition to looking at the material aspect, other major factors are disrupting and enabling the industry. Two I would highlight are:

1. Digitalization

(Semi-)automated machinery enhance efficiency, accuracy, and sometimes simply gets the job done where we are seeing shortages in the workforce. Building Information Modelling is another example that provides increased transparency over the entire building process to the end of life which enables circularity.

2. Integrated systems

Buildings are increasingly doing more for us than providing shelter. They are deeply connected to our lives and increasingly integrated into other domains such as mobility, for example, charging for electric cars, or energy, for instance, how heat management plays a role in smart and sustainable district developments.

Be bold and move beyond the pilot

During Green Tech Days,it was clear that despite the exciting developments in the construction sector,many companies face challenges in their journey towards decarbonization. Often,the obstacle lies in the question of viability. Some are hesitant to take the leap as the first mover, uncertain whether the market will follow. Others struggle due to the lack of feasible and mature solutions available on an industrial scale.

Conversely, there are companies striving to offer solutions to these challenges. However, they face hurdles in their ability to supply due to the early stage of their offerings and the uncertainty surrounding market demand. Despite our shared vision of creating a future world worth living in, we find ourselves entangled in various dilemmas.

Nevertheless, history has shown that those who boldly invest in the future are the ones who ultimately succeed. The construction sector and its entire value chain are screaming for innovation beyond pilot projects. I applaud all the companies who truly dare and capture the momentum to venture in this industry.

Want to take your project beyond a pilot? Contact me to discuss what it takes to build ventures at scale.

Max Steindl-Ditzel
Max Steindl-Ditzel
CEO & Managing Partner

3 methods for building sustainable corporate ventures

Read this guide and learn how you can unlock the power of your organization to drive meaningful action against climate change. You’ll explore three methods for building sustainable ventures with real-world examples.

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