The environment impact of construction can be reduced as early as today

The construction industry accounts for a big part of climate change. The good news is that it is possible to significantly reduce this already today. And with new technology, the picture can be even brighter.

In a recent study by Docent Tove Malmqvist and other researchers including from KTH and IVL (Swedish Environmental Research Institute) in consultation with the Swedish Construction Federation, the environment impact of five construction systems for a residential apartment block were compared. Three of them were constructed in concrete and the other two were timber-based. The systems are used today. The research was based on an existing building in Hökarängen, south Stockholm. They looked at the climate impact of the building, if it were to have been built today with the five different systems.

The results indicate that by simply choosing a different system, the climate impact of the construction phase can be reduced by around one third. Added to which, each system has room for potential improvement of over 20 percent compared to the technologies used today. In other words, it is possible to halve climate impact using solutions that are already available and that can be used.

The report presents a number of recommendations for contractors and developers. These include:
• Order low carbon cement concrete
• Order the best products climate wise
• Switch to renewable fuels for transport
• Avoid long distance transport of materials and components
• Optimise energy usage on the construction site
• Factor in climate impact and learn more about this

As such, it is not a case of advanced super solutions, but of pretty basic steps that can made a big difference. Now, it’s up to clients, developers and planners to actually take action. Sometimes, we talk about what responsibilities an individual has versus society. (See for example, this interesting article in Svenska Dagbladet by Anders Rosén, Associate Professor at KTH, and others. However, we also have an individual responsibility in our professional roles. So, let’s get started and do what can be done.

Tip of the week: Jonathan Metzger, Associate Professor at KTH writes about this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics winner in Aftonbladet.

When the fire alarm goes off

Last Monday, 8 October, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. The report contains the sum of current knowledge on what 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees of global warming respectively entails. These temperature increases are linked to the targets that virtually every country in the world has agreed on in the so-called Paris Agreement.

 The IPCC brings together researchers within different fields from all round the world and each report is subject to comprehensive review processes. The work is consensus based and careful to ensure everything included in the report is based on solid scientific grounds. This means they err on the side of caution, i.e. that they tend to underestimate the risks associated with climate changes. It is therefore not that surprising that the warnings and risk assessments have been dialled up in this report compared to earlier reports. As more research is done and knowledge acquired (and as the world gets warmer) new effects will also be discovered.

 The report points to the need for more urgent changes now if we are to achieve the climate targets set. We also know what needs to be done. We should stop using fossil fuels, we should build climate-smart houses, we should find new ways to produce steel, cement and plastic, we should eat less meat and dairy products from ruminants and we should fly less. All these pieces must be part of a strategy for a sustainable society in line with the Paris Agreement. We cannot do everything in one day and we do not have all the details ready, but we know where we can start. For example, I have previously written about transportation and buildings.

 Right now, we are a bit like a group of people sitting in a house where the fire alarm has gone off, but nobody is reacting, because we are all thinking that if no one else does anything, maybe I misheard and maybe there is no fire alarm. But there is. And what’s needed is for some people to stand up and do what has to be done. If some people start, others will then follow.

 But not everyone will be celebrating. Those with large holdings of fossil fuels will lose out. Lobbyists will employ their usual arguments and do what they can to slow this development. They may not say that the measures are wrong, perhaps, but they will find arguments that someone else should do something else, later, not now.

 However, the longer we wait to tackle climate change, the more expensive it will be. We have waited long enough about acting on the information we have had, and this means that we need to act now and use the alternatives that are available. To reach the climate targets, we need to roughly halve emissions every decade. That is totally doable. It’s just a matter of getting started.

 Tip of the week: Access the material from the IPCC. The report itself is comprehensive but there are several different summary versions on different levels. Everything is available here

Overwhelming male dominance

When I was reading Ny Teknik, a Swedish weekly about technology and engineering, a few weeks ago, it suddenly struck me that the magazine was almost completely a male-only zone. I decided to do a control count, and yes, my impression was correct.

Fully 29 of the 33 individuals named in editorial content photographs, were male. In the next edition, (27/9), there was a slight improvement, but a clear majority, 24 of 37, were male. Altogether, 76 percent of the individuals whose name and photo were included in these two editions were male.

I have no idea whether Ny Teknik is an accurate representation of technology and engineering Sweden. Either way, it is not acceptable. Society is facing major changes that are very largely being driven by developments in technology. Digitalisation is sweeping through society like a monumental wind of change and we have perhaps only the slightest inkling of what this entails. The climate challenge means big changes whether or not we cut greenhouse gas emissions. We need both men and women in this scenario. We cannot have a debate about how technology is changing society that involves only (or mostly only) men. To quote from one of KTH’s campaigns: The future is too important to be left to men.

Sometimes it feels as though we need a gender-related state of emergency in the face of such overwhelming male dominance in technology fields. When you have a state of emergency, you can sometimes do things that under normal circumstances are not considered acceptable. Perhaps, we need something like this here. Such as quotas and targeted initiatives to achieve a better gender balance and tolerance of female dominated islands in a sea of male heavy environments.

PS to statistics nerds: I also did a count of people in adverts. In ads where individuals were named, 70 percent were men, compared to just 52 percent in ads without name checks (I only included individuals whose faces were clearly recognisable). In the case of journalists with byline photos, the figures were about even (54 percent men). With reservation for the odd miscount here and there, I think these figures are fascinating as advertisers can chose how they wish to portray themselves, and as often as not, this is as a male-dominated world. Apart from ads without named individuals (often job ads), they seem to want to communicate a different message.

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