Buildings and construction are the number one causes of the climate crisis, accounting for 39 per cent of global emissions. The industry is continuing to grow at an alarming rate; by 2060 the world will be adding the equivalent of New York City monthly – in new construction. With the magnitude of impact the industry has on the world there is an immediate and urgent need to make a fundamental change to how we design and build everything. We don’t have a choice but to move to a place of disruption in the industry.
The recent extreme weather events around the world – heat waves and increasing forest fires, rising sea levels and global droughts – is proof of the now, evident runaway climate effects of the way we have been living our lives for the past century. We must realize these crises are no longer in the future for other generations to solve. We need to disrupt the industry and look to deep green construction methods to make positive changes through innovation and technology.
Compared to other industries, the construction industry has been slow to change. There have been incredible innovations in the airline, automobile, telecommunications and computer industries over the past 50 years, but the building and construction industry has stayed largely the same. We are still mainly building buildings using the same on-site processes that we have used for the past 100 years.
If we really want to make significant change and combat the damaging effects the industry has on the planet, we need to start doing things differently and push back on the resistance coming from within the industry – from typical developer mind-sets and from individual attitudes that have resulted in the industry being hugely risk averse and preferring to stick to established minimum codes rather than looking at innovative new approaches.
Companies such as Nexii, a green construction technology company, have to prove that it is ok to do things differently. They have started their journey, but there is still a way to go to break down the attitudinal resistance and convince the industry that we need to design and build with the end goal of creating a truly sustainable building.
The pandemic allowed us to have more clarity on the big issues going on in the world. It gave us time to pause and think differently about everything. Many issues that were not being properly addressed in the world started to get a lot of attention such as social justice, political issues, and climate change. Hopefully, while the world starts to go back to a new kind of normal, people will not forget the importance of addressing these key issues and we will still be able to see significant changes in industries around the world. In 2006, I created the Living Building Challenge Program and a few years later alunced the Living Future Institute to provide a vision and direction to the design and building community and hopefully inspire them to move towards a healthier, greener future. We have seen some progress in this space, but we need to do much more to make a real difference.
This is where my collaboration with Nexii comes in, creating buildings that are more resource and energy-efficient with less waste, less embodied carbon, and a smaller carbon footprint. Often innovation is impacted by the price of a project because each building is essentially a bespoke process, even when it does not make sense to be. If you treat a building more like a product in terms of how it is built and its build components, you can take out a lot of the risk while enhancing performance.
My vision is to transform the world to support the health and well-being of every person and all living things. And I’m doing that by instigating and implementing new models in design and construction. By working with Nexii as their impact architect, I will be able to provide advice on ways to maximize the environmental benefits of Nexii architecture, using its breakthrough proprietary material, Nexiite, which has comparable properties to concrete, but contains no Portland cement or lime, significantly reducing end-to-end carbon emissions.
This work with Nexii is critical. However, it will take substantial innovations from many entities to truly disrupt the construction industry. If it were just one thing we would have already changed our direction. It’s a lot of things – some little and some immense. Certainly, building standards are important and regulations can help. And the market is slowly starting to shift to make it economically easier for builders to justify making substantive changes. Things that used to be expensive are now cheaper, and when something is cost-competitive, it is easier for people to adopt them. For example, the economics of scale for products such as photovoltaics, LED lighting, batteries, and advanced window systems are now more substantial, so these items are being used more frequently due to cost-effectiveness.
There’s also familiarity and habits to change. The more buildings that are made using leading-edge technologies, the more likely they are to be adopted.
Jason F McLennan is CEO of McLennan Design and founder of the International Living Future Institute. He is also impact architect at Nexii.