Management of Sustainability in Construction Works

University dissertation from Division of Construction Management, Lund Institute of Technology

Abstract: The present global environmental condition is a consequence of the increasing consumption of natural resources whose depletion exceeds what is physically possible to sustain in the long term. The construction sector is a considerable contributor to this resource depletion and sustainability is adopted in the form of the theory of ecological modernization. The implementation depends to varying extents on sustainability demands at the global, national, regional, local, corporate and individual levels. In addition, there appears to be a lack of new knowledge transfer from the international research community to local construction project managers, particularly in the process of construction works in line with the objective of sustainability. According to environmental legislation, it is the client who is the responsibility party, performing activities as owner and administrator of construction works.

The aim of the research is, first, to define what sustainability in construction works is. The understanding and meaning of sustainability can vary considerably through the perspective of a client and a construction project manager, within corporate organizations and through sporadic knowledge transfer. A critical review of the use of the terminology of sustainable construction and sustainable building is carried out and a model for enabling a client to manage sustainability matters in relation to construction works and then validate this model within a defined context is established.

The construction sector is complex and fragmented and has, therefore, a tendency to resist changes leading towards sustainability. Clients and project managers are facing barriers to the implementation of sustainability, e.g. lack of pro-active sustainable measures, conflicts in real and perceived costs and inadequate implementation expertise. A common misunderstanding is that sustainability in construction works is more expensive in terms of investment costs compared to ‘normal’ mainstream buildings. It is critical to transfer knowledge from the research community to mainstream practitioners efficiently to help facilitate the implementation of corporate sustainability without delay or confusion of methodology.

By adopting the standard ISO 15392: “Sustainability in building construction – General principles”, it is possible to interpret sustainability for construction works accordingly, despite the different backgrounds of stakeholders. Therefore, different and confusing interpretations of sustainable building, sustainable construction or green building can be avoided.

To meet the holistic conditions of sustainability according to the standard above, it is crucial to implement a platform of multiple corporate management systems such as those focused on quality-, environment-, work safety-, stakeholders-, and knowledge into an integrated system of sustainability. By utilizing the STEPS (Start-up, Take-off, Expansion, Progressive, Sustainability) maturity roadmap, it is possible to achieve continual improvement in knowledge management in a ‘many-small-steps’ approach on the corporate level. It is also crucial to transfer knowledge horizontally, to formulate a sustainability policy regarding sustainability, to translate corporate activities into adequate key figures/ indicators in order to fulfil the commitment of continual improvement, and meet the community´s sustainability objectives. This information should be placed within the property instead of being held by the owner. A framework of assessment is necessary, objective-led, taking into account site-specific, corporate-specific and service-life issues.

The STURE (Stakeholder-Urban Evaluation) model is a product of the research and represents an approach that optimizes the sustainability demands and abilities of a client, stakeholders and authorities relevant to a single or multiple construction works. Five cases of construction works were used as input to validate the STURE model in line with the principles of the ISO 15932 standard. The cases studies were drawn from different phases in the life-cycle of construction works and in different stages of construction process. Furthermore, the cases represented buildings with different functions. The result of the validation implies the possibility to use the STURE model with some minor adjustments, to assess construction work or works in order to determine whether or not it is heading towards a sustainable, a partly sustainable or non-sustainable development.

The proposed STURE model connects to the STEPS maturity roadmap on the corporate level and the combinations of ISO standards are a way of structuring stakeholder demands or outcomes of expectancy with regard to sustainability objectives, optimized from national, regional, local and corporate levels together with technical and functional demands. Use of these methods also promotes continual improvement in project performance and basic organizational activities. This is, as noted earlier, a ‘many-small-steps’ approach and depends on the client’s ability, level of knowledge and inclination. The aim is not to be a world leader, but rather to recognize that improvement comes through successive small steps and, thus, creates a means for measuring improvement along the path of sustainability in the field of construction works.

Progress towards sustainability in construction works is rather slow, in spite of the short timescale before potential irreversible damage occurs from climate change. In the long run it is not enough to sustain on the level of present environmental depletion; it has to be a regenerative development. By these means, it is time for action by transferring current and new knowledge from the research community into an adaptive and practical framework for implementation. This knowledge must be complete with clearly defined economic incentives, and the gap between researchers and practitioners must be bridged with arguments of economic value. It is also important to bridge the gap of knowledge transfer in both directions between industrialized and developing countries, as local decisions and solutions affecting the built environment have both local and global impact. Last, it is the client/owner/developer, as the responsible performer of activities concerning construction works, who has the main responsibility concerning construction works and the obligation to commit sustainability. At the same time, there is an opportunity and a challenge to make the built environment more sustainable and begin regenerative development in the earnest.