Posted on December 03, 2019

With the built environment considered a primary generator of the global GHG emissions, green buildings have been witnessing an upward growth trajectory for the past few years. That said, in measuring sustainability of contemporary buildings and infrastructure projects, a major thrust lies in their ability to deliver sustainable design features, construction practices and post-construction operational performance.

According to M. A. Nadeera Rangika, Assistant Construction Manager for Parsons, working at Lusail’s Commercial Boulevard Project, from the time of design up to operations and maintenance, we have missed out a step where the entire construction and building activity takes place. The construction management phase, which comprises of enabling works, sub-structure, superstructure and finishing works, is responsible for a significant part of the urban built environment’s total carbon footprint. Despite the growth of sustainable building industry, construction management phase has mostly remained outside the developers’ scope. Understandably, then, the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) has introduced a green certification for construction practices’ implementation despite the project’s design and post-construction performance. This construction management focused certification is a relatively new concept for the region. “GORD has taken this into consideration and is now emphasising the merits of GSAS Construction Management (CM) certification,” said Nadeera who was attending 2019’s final workshop on GSAS-Construction Management for this year. GSAS is Global Sustainability Assessment System that consolidates world’s leading sustainability systems while also adding a regional context to them.

Throughout the year, GSAS-CM workshops are organized to train engineers in reducing the environmental impacts of their project’s construction works through measures such as dust suppression, noise control, energy & water conservation on site, enhanced site safety, improvement in working conditions for labour and efficient waste management practices, etc. When asked about the single most crucial factor to reduce the environmental impact of site works, Michael Karasoulas, Senior Environmental Engineer at WSP Middle East, emphasized the value of  the  sustainability requirements and hands-on knowledge among contractors, clients, project managers and other stakeholders. “To maintain sustainability during the construction process, all project stakeholders have to be on the same page, not just in terms of goals but also their willingness to deliver these goals.”

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In terms of site works, Nadeera mentioned dust contamination as a major factor hampering the environment. “The amount of dust created by construction activities, generators and excavated materials is not just affecting the construction site but also goes into the atmosphere and becomes airborne, affecting neighbouring communities at large.” Construction waste ending up in landfills, she added, is another major area of improvement. “It is unfortunate that such a big amount of construction waste that can be recycled or put into other uses is simply thrown away just because a contractor is inattentive to do so.”

During the two-day workshop held on November 27 and 28, experts from GORD, presented a thorough guide to implementing sustainable construction practices. Starting from drafting a Construction Management Plan through to the processes of CM audits conducted during various construction phases of the project, attendees of the workshop learnt nuts and bolts as well as the complexities of implementing sustainability across all site works.

Participants of the two-day course represented leading public and private organizations within the construction domain. Sharing his experience about significant challenges facing sustainable practices during construction, Karasoulas said, “When working with contractors within strict time constraints, sustainability and environment can be a little bit stepped aside by an increased focus on safety, progress and quality, at least temporarily.” Having said that, certifications such as GSAS-CM and related workshops provide a steady reminder to keep sustainability at the core of site practices.

Nadeera, in the same vein, said that “the challenges will decrease if sustainability requirements are enforced in the contract. Currently, it is the contractor’s desire if they want to implement them or not because they are not obliged to do so.” Having a regulation enforcing or incentivizing green practices during construction phase, she concluded, is the most crucial factor in catalysing a market-led transformation towards eco-friendly construction practices.

Whilst the industry faces a number of challenges in implementing sustainability over the course of a project’s construction, embracing green practices on site presents a range of opportunities beyond the obvious benefit of preserving the ecosystem. Reusing and recycling construction materials, for instance, not only reduce the construction waste ending up in landfills but also cut down the cost of new materials required for future use. Similarly, optimized use of water and energy on site does not only conserve earthly resources but also result in monetary savings. Opportunities, hence, are endless when projects adopt sustainable construction management practices. That said, market-driven transformation is what the construction industry desperately needs to be truly sustainable.

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