As the construction industry undergoes an inevitable revolution, this time we hope it looks a little bit different. Rapid industrial development has ushered us into the modern era, but it has also brought about enduring damage to our built and natural environments.
Did you know…?
- The five warmest years on record have occurred in the last decade,
- More than 1 million species currently face extinction, and
- We would need 1.7 planets to support our current demand on the Earth’s resources…
These shocking realities are the consequence of unsustainable progress made in the last 200 years, which is why the development that defines our present and future must be sustainable and durable. But sustainable development can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so let’s dive into what it means and how it affects the world of construction!
Table of Contents
First of all, what is sustainable development?
The term sustainable development gets thrown around a lot. This concept, which can be viewed as the bedrock strategy for future evolution, has different interpretations according to the context. For example, from the perspective of mitigating climate change, ending global poverty, or eliminating discrimination, sustainable development and the steps to achieve it will all look differently.
However, the most frequently quoted and overarching definition of sustainable development comes from Our Common Future:
Sustainable development can be defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In other words, sustainable development is development that takes into consideration the many needs of different stakeholders, which may be competing at times, at present and in the future, by considering different environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) conditions.
Why is it so important?
Sustainable development is important because the way we approach development and the decisions we make have a very real, very clear, and very influential effect on society. For example, the poor planning of a new city highway system can negatively impact the citizens who rely on it to get to work every morning, the local trade system in the greater metropolitan area, and the natural habitat upon which the infrastructure is built.
Many of our society’s current challenges can be traced back to poor or unsustainable development. For example, our almost exhaustive dependence on fossil-fuels for energy despite the awareness that these resources are finite.
Even the 2007-2008 financial crisis or more recently, the collapse of Sillicon Valley Bank, can be traced back to unsustainable development. Sustainable development is important because it takes not only a short-term view, but also a long-term perspective of how progress will affect the community, environment and greater society in the years to come.
Why is resilience important for sustainable development?
In recent years, the number of disruptions (technological, environmental, social) seems to be increasing in number and intensity, perhaps in response to the rapid development experienced in the past century.
It’s for this reason that resilience is important to consider when we discuss sustainable and inclusive growth. In the world of construction, resilience means something altogether different and multifaceted. The sustainable infrastructure of our present and future must be:
- Physically resilient, meaning that it can withstand environmental disruptions that are occurring at higher frequencies and resist the effects of climate change that can be potentially damaging to the built and natural environments.
- Energy efficient, taking into consideration the limitations with respect to traditional fossil fuels and the adoption of new technologies and energy sources. Moreover, as more national and local governments begin enacting and enforcing regulations related to energy efficiency and standards, our future buildings and homes should be developed in a way that considers and facilitates change and new advancements.
- Adaptable, since the global population is growing at unprecedented rates – reaching a whopping 9.8 million people by 2050. For this reason alone, the construction industry must design and construct new buildings that are resilient to extreme changes to social structures and community sizes.
The sustainable development goals
To put sustainable development into action, in 2015 the United Nations (UN) established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda sets out a 15-year plan of action for “people, planet, and prosperity”. Here are the 17 Goals according to the UN:
- Goal 1 – No Poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
- Goal 2 – Zero Hunger: Eng hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
- Goal 4 – Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Goal 5 – Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
- Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
- Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
- Goal 13 – Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
- Goal 14 – Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Goal 15 – Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
- Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.
The obstacles we face
As an industry, the most challenging obstacles are those most closely linked to our greater society. In an effort to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, CO2 emissions worldwide must be cut by 45% by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. However, as a hard to abate industry, the industry’s efforts must go above and beyond what they are today.
Examples of sustainable development
Here are some examples of technologies and business models gaining popularity in the construction industry that unite growing demand with sustainable development:
Modular construction is a sustainable construction method in which a building is constructed off-site, under controlled conditions, using the same materials and designed with the same codes and standards as conventional infrastructure, but in half the time and at a more competitive cost.
This technique ensures that waste and pollution are minimized. For examples of this sustainable construction technique in action, meet Modulous (US & UK) and Wallex (Spain), two startups in our investment portfolio that are revolutionizing the world of modular construction.
Green Building Materials
Green building materials are those that are derived from renewable resources and that can be recycled at the end-of-life stage when a building has reached its current lifespan.
These materials can be organic, occurring in nature, or synthetic, created from innovative processes that reutilize carbon emissions (Carbon Capture and Utilization). Carbon Upcycling is a perfect example of a carbon utilization company that produces CO2-enhanced cement and concrete additives for more sustainable infrastructure. In fact, just last year they were awarded £2.3 Million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the world’s first commercial-scale cement additive plant that combines CO2 sequestration and waste glass.
Machine Assisted Technology
The cat’s out of the bag… construction’s got a problem and it’s not just environmental. The industry has a workforce problem. But machine assisted technology is one area of sustainable development with boundless advantages.
Technologies such as 3D printing and other machine assisted applications provide solutions for typically dangerous, repetitive, and undesired tasks. In addition to helping solve construction’s workforce supply problems, machine assisted technologies also provide benefits related to efficiency and cost. The global leader in construction-grade 3D printers, COBOD, are making houses around the world in less time, at a fraction of the cost, and at a high quality.
How can you do your part?
Major building materials leaders are already setting ambitious climate goals and embracing new avenues for innovation though R&D and partnerships. The SDGs that all stakeholders throughout the construction value chain can use to ensure sustainable future development and progress are Goals 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 15. It’s our individual duty to make the construction sector an example of sustainable development and take the lead across the hard-to-abate and heavy industries.
You can do your part by making sure you, your team, and your company are actively making strides to achieve the SDGs by 2030! Innovation is at the core of our industry, so let’s make it our mission to innovate sustainably.
Cemex Ventures doing its best efforts to make the world sustainably developed
Cemex Ventures was established in 2017 to help foster the construction revolution sustainably. As the Corporate Venture Capital and open innovation unit of Cemex, we apply a responsible mindset throughout all our investment, partnership, and acceleration mechanisms.
We practice Sustainable Responsible Investment (SRI) and recently put our mantra into practice with the publication of our first official ESG policy. It’s about more than good intentions. Our policy is a tangible and practical plan to achieve real results. Read more to see what our understanding of ESG is and what policies and framework we use.
We’re committed to contributing to a better world by investing in green construction technologies and business models that make our industry more sustainable and eco-friendly. Do you have a startup or business model that pertains to:
- Decarbonization: carbon capture, utilization & storage
- Circular business models
- CDE waste & recycling
- Alternative fuels & new energy sources
- Sustainable materials
- Sustainable products libraries & LCA
- Water conservation
- Environmental damage mitigation