Construction: Promoting sustainability in the construction sector

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 18, 2022 - July 24, 2022.
Construction: Promoting sustainability in the construction sector
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The building and construction sector was responsible for 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to the 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction. 

Up to 11% of these emissions were from manufacturing building materials and products, such as steel, cement and glass. The global buildings sector emissions increased to a record high in 2018, mainly due to demand growth and population expansion. 

There are various initiatives being taken by global players to reduce emissions in this sector, such as the use of renewable energy. Greener alternatives to cement and steel are also being explored.

Local industry players, however, struggle to reduce their emissions due to the lack of access to these kinds of resources, which tend to be more expensive. 

Despite these challenges, engineering firm Minconsult Sdn Bhd took a step forward and became the first Asean company in the construction and engineering sector to commit to the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) earlier this year. 

The firm, founded in 1962, has been involved in several iconic projects, including the second Penang bridge, which is the longest bridge in the country; the Bukit Jalil National Sports Complex; and international projects like the Karachi Bus Rapid Transit in Pakistan. It has also done projects related to sanitary landfills, sewerage and solid waste disposal. 

“As engineers and environmentalists, we really understand how critical the situation is,” says Datuk Dr Dennis Ganendra, CEO of Minconsult, adding that there is an urgency to act now to protect the country from climate threats.

Much of the pressure to adhere to environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards is put on public-listed companies. But private companies have to step up as well. 

Since up to 40% of Minconsult’s portfolio comprises international projects, Dennis shares that pressure from international clients has become a catalyst for the company to adopt sustainability measures. “A lot of global supply chains now require their business partners to make climate pledges.” 

The construction sector can play a crucial role in promoting a low-carbon society, he adds. “Construction companies have to be up to date with the global trends and know where the industry is heading. They also need to be aware of cutting-edge technologies [that can be implemented in their operations].” 

One method in which Minconsult is doing so is by using the modular construction system (MCS). 

“Essentially, you do all the construction in a factory environment. This [will produce] much less waste and the construction [process] can be done much faster. The constructed building is bolted on when it is taken to the site,” explains Dennis. 

With MCS, a project that used to take a year to complete can now be completed within three months, he says. Based on a study by the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh Napier University, MCS can produce 41% to 45% less carbon dioxide than the traditional method of construction. 

To reduce energy use, Minconsult has invested in more efficient and energy-saving pumps, lighting and machinery. Behavioural change is also needed to achieve this goal, says Dennis.

For instance, the company set its office air-conditioner at room temperature and changed the dress code so employees do not have to be decked out in full suits. 

Minconsult is also taking up green projects that are profitable and scalable. This includes a biogas plant powered by pig waste in Kampung Valdor, Seberang Perai, and hydrogen-powered buses in Sarawak.

“I think this concept that environmental costs are purely a cost is something that we need to rethink. [Instead], we should look at environmental costs as an investment,” says Dennis.