Am­bi­ka Ja­gas­sars­ingh

am­bi­ka ja­gas­sars­ingh@guardian.co.tt

With the rise in con­cern on the is­sue of cli­mate change, there is in­creas­ing pres­sure on in­dus­tries, such as con­struc­tion to min­imise its en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts for a more sus­tain­able fu­ture.

As the world pro­gress­es and more struc­tures are erect­ed, the con­struc­tion in­dus­try is one of the largest con­sumers of nat­ur­al re­sources, and al­so a large pro­duc­er of car­bon diox­ide.

One civ­il en­gi­neer, An­drew Chin Lee in his Mas­ter’s the­sis for the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies (UWI), fo­cused on how sus­tain­able con­struc­tion prac­tices can af­fect the over­all prof­itabil­i­ty of the in­dus­try.

He stat­ed, “the prac­tice of sus­tain­abil­i­ty is the pre­ven­tion of nat­ur­al re­sources and de­ple­tion to pre­serve eco­log­i­cal equi­lib­ri­um.”

While con­struc­tion prac­tices have evolved from me­dieval times, which is nec­es­sary to keep up with glob­al­i­sa­tion, there are some set­backs.

“Con­struc­tion prac­tices and method­olo­gies have pro­gressed from the first builders to mod­ern con­struc­tors to­day. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, as well as its prac­tices, have fa­cil­i­tat­ed this with­in the in­dus­try. How­ev­er, there are a pletho­ra of is­sues that ac­com­pa­ny these break­throughs – in­creased pol­lu­tion and over­con­sump­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, im­ple­ment­ing lead­er­ship in en­er­gy and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­sign (LEED) prin­ci­ples when con­struct­ing, is ben­e­fi­cial on mul­ti­ple lev­els.

“LEED-cer­ti­fied build­ings re­duce costs, in­crease pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, re­duce car­bon emis­sions, and make ur­ban ar­eas health­i­er for oc­cu­pants. This sys­tem is es­sen­tial to con­front the cli­mate prob­lem, im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions and cli­mate re­silience, and cre­ate more equal com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) (Azarov 2018),” said Chin Lee.

One such way his the­sis ex­plores is through the prac­tice of green roof­ing sys­tems. The study stat­ed that, “Green roof­ing tech­niques en­cour­age en­er­gy cost re­duc­tions and im­prove the lo­cal ecol­o­gy. These mea­sure­ments en­cour­age a sus­tain­able ap­proach to in­fra­struc­ture and the built en­vi­ron­ment (Naran­jo 2020).”

The study added that through the use of this method, a build­ing’s en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact can be re­duced since, “over­lay­ing a roof or any ex­ter­nal part of a build­ing with veg­e­ta­tion can re­duce heat flux and re­flec­tiv­i­ty of so­lar rays, which con­tribute to cool­ing via evap­o­ra­tion, there­by in­creas­ing a bet­ter rate of ther­mal per­for­mance (Hewage 2013).”

These sus­tain­able sys­tems are not nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed to roof­ing since veg­e­ta­tion sys­tems can al­so be done in the form of green walls. With the de­vel­op­ments with­in the in­dus­try, Chin Lee added that there are op­tions for every­one.

“There are var­i­ous op­tions avail­able in to­day’s mar­ket that are tai­lored to the spe­cif­ic needs of the con­sumer as well as com­ply with the in­fra­struc­ture’s struc­tur­al re­quire­ments (Hewage 2013). Liv­ing roof sys­tems such as green roof­ing and liv­ing walls pos­sess dif­fer­ing lay­ered struc­tures: drainage, root bar­ri­er, fil­tered lay­er, land lay­ers for grow­ing, wa­ter re­ten­tion, and veg­e­ta­tion (Hewage 2013).”

The study al­so delved in­to the nu­mer­ous pos­i­tives of the sys­tem such as the im­prove­ment in air qual­i­ty, re­duc­tion of heat in dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed ar­eas, re­duc­tion of as­so­ci­at­ed costs for en­er­gy with re­gards to cool­ing and heat­ing, as well as less­en­ing noise pol­lu­tion.

De­spite its many ben­e­fits, how­ev­er, Chin Lee stat­ed that there was some scep­ti­cism about im­ple­ment­ing the method.

“While these prac­tices are cer­tain­ly ben­e­fi­cial to the en­vi­ron­ment, there has been some con­cern that they may come at a cost that many con­struc­tion com­pa­nies sim­ply can­not af­ford.”

He went on to note that through his re­search, he has found that sus­tain­able con­struc­tion does come with a high­er ini­tial cost. How­ev­er, it should not de­ter the con­struc­tion mar­ket and their clients since, “over the lifes­pan of a build­ing, the cost sav­ings as­so­ci­at­ed with sus­tain­able prac­tices more than make up for this ini­tial in­vest­ment.”

In a sur­vey con­duct­ed by Chin Lee among 80 pro­fes­sion­als with­in the con­struc­tion field, 13.3 per cent of the re­spon­dents thought that the re­turn on in­vest­ment (ROI) was un­favourable. An­oth­er 13.3 per cent found that it was not worth the ini­tial in­vest­ment and up­front cap­i­tal.

Thir­ty per cent of the re­main­ing thought that the cost was sim­ply too high to be met.

Chin Lee ref­er­enced the avail­abil­i­ty of sub­si­dies as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the ret­i­cence to change to green­er al­ter­na­tives.

He said, “Gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for gas, elec­tric­i­ty, and wa­ter ser­vices in T&T act against ef­forts to con­struct green build­ings. These sub­si­dies have sev­er­al ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing mak­ing elec­tric­i­ty and gaso­line more af­ford­able for con­sumers, low­er­ing the cost of fu­el for pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and en­cour­ag­ing con­sumers to switch from tra­di­tion­al fu­el to com­pressed nat­ur­al gas (CNG), which is more en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly and low­ers car­bon emis­sions.”

How­ev­er, as seen in T&T’s 2022/2023 Bud­get, these sub­si­dies may not be around for much longer.

This prompt­ed Chin Lee to add, “The amount of sub­si­dies pro­vid­ed by the gov­ern­ment has changed over time since it ap­pears to be cut­ting back on them an­nu­al­ly. T&T’s bud­get to­wards fu­el prices has ex­po­nen­tial­ly grown through­out the decades, where­by all prices have seen a lin­ear in­crease as sub­si­dies are slow­ly re­duced year to year. This is a prime ex­am­ple of why there will be a need for green prac­tices in in­fra­struc­ture and en­er­gy.”

He stat­ed by mak­ing this change, de­vel­op­ers will not be able to see a dif­fer­ence im­me­di­ate­ly, but in the long run, it will pay off.

“The fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage of a green build­ing is a low­er life cy­cle cost, as op­er­a­tional costs are low­er due to less util­i­sa­tion and wastage of ser­vices, which means the own­er will even­tu­al­ly see a re­turn on their in­vest­ment.”

He al­so sug­gest­ed that sim­i­lar to in­cen­tivis­ing cit­i­zens who make the switch to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly cars, those who choose a green­er build­ing should al­so ben­e­fit.

“Own­ers of green build­ings should re­ceive ben­e­fits like low­er hous­ing tax­es to en­cour­age peo­ple to cre­ate green struc­tures, which would ul­ti­mate­ly im­prove the cli­mate on a glob­al scale.”

While cost may be one de­ter­rence to con­sid­er, the re­main­ing 43.3 per cent who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the sur­vey stat­ed that the lack of knowl­edge on sus­tain­abil­i­ty meth­ods pre­sent­ed an­oth­er hin­drance.

To com­bat this is­sue how­ev­er, and shed more light on the sit­u­a­tion Chin Lee said, “the T&T Green Build­ing Coun­cil (TTG­BC) has been of­fer­ing a course that leads to the LEED Green As­so­ciate test since 2012, mak­ing it sim­ple for some­one to be­come a LEED ac­cred­it­ed pro­fes­sion­al (LEED-AP). Thus, it is fea­si­ble to learn about green tech­nol­o­gy and so­lu­tions in Trinidad and To­ba­go and put such skills to use by in­cor­po­rat­ing green so­lu­tions in­to con­struc­tion projects.”

De­spite the lack of gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in the realm of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, Chin Lee made sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions. These in­clud­ed the ed­u­ca­tion of, “all stake­hold­ers from pro­fes­sion­als to de­vel­op­ers of the ben­e­fits of sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture” as well as the cre­ation of gov­ern­ing bod­ies by Small Is­land De­vel­op­ing States (SIDS), which “works hand in hand with glob­al en­ti­ties that pro­mote sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­tur­al de­vel­op­ment in our re­gion.”

Chin Lee added that “sus­tain­able con­struc­tion can help con­struc­tion com­pa­nies to at­tract new clients who are in­ter­est­ed in en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly prac­tices and to stand out in an in­creas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try.”

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