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Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology

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The construction industry has been slower than most to adopt technological innovations, and wary of modernizing strategies and processes. In the US, labour productivity in construction has in fact fallen in the last 40 years.

This is particularly surprising considering the industry’s central role in everyone’s daily life and its powerful impact on other industries, the environment and the economy as a whole. The construction sector now accounts for 6% of global GDP, and about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings. Given the industry’s size and weight, even small improvements in performance would generate huge benefits for the world.

Thirty measures are presented in a new report by the World Economic Forum as part of a construction “industry transformation framework”. The report, Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology, describes and promotes the effort needed by all stakeholders for the industry to fully realize its potential for change.

The report, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), features, among other things, the use of innovative technologies, enhancements in operations and processes, adjustments to business and HR strategies, industry cooperation and, crucially, optimization of public policy. Citing numerous best practices and case studies, it is intended not only for construction companies but also design companies, suppliers of technology and building materials or equipment, and others along the value chain, as well as for the industry as a whole, and governments. “For many in the industry, the approach described in the report is a new and possibly radical one, but it is the path to a more innovative, productive and socially responsible future,” said John M. Beck, Executive Chairman, Aecon.

Leading-edge technologies already affect all subsectors and stages of a building asset’s life cycle – from planning and design through to operations and maintenance. But their adoption is still sparse and uneven. Only when the various advances have been adopted pervasively will the industry really be able to boast of a transformation – that is the clear message of the report. Pedro Rodrigues de Almeida, Head of Basic Industries and member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum, noted that “The report provides a preview of the upcoming changes in the industry, and a way of accelerating their realization. It offers a toolkit for success, and also serves as a necessary rallying call.”

Change is already under way, headed by the construction firms themselves with the support of innovative processes and products. Emerging digital technologies will boost productivity, enhance the quality of buildings and improve on-site safety and environmental compatibility: 3D models for guidance, robots for the dangerous work, and drones and embedded sensors to check on progress, for instance. “Individual companies have serious transformative opportunities now, by exploiting new technologies and materials,” said Santiago Castagnino, a partner and construction expert at BCG, and co-author of the report. “If you also optimize the planning and the processes, you could easily end up cutting costs by 15% and reducing the completion time by as much as 30%.”

Governments are key contributors to the industry’s evolution. A government is often not only the regulator but also the owner and a major client of infrastructure assets. By accelerating regulatory and environmental approvals, it can reduce project delays. It can improve competitiveness by inviting foreign bidders to tender, promote technological innovation by supporting academic and corporate R&D, impose environmental standards and weed out corruption in procurement practices.

One of the megatrends shaking up the construction industry is an increase in the population of the world’s urban areas by 200,000 people a day, all of them needing affordable housing plus social, transportation and utility infrastructure. Challenges of this scope pressure the industry to change. Its transformation will affect society, by reducing construction costs; the environment, by improving the use of scarce materials or making buildings more eco-efficient over time; and the economy, by narrowing the global infrastructure gap and boosting economic development in general.

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Economy

Economic Growth in Africa Rebounds, But Not Fast Enough

MD Staff

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth is projected to reach 3.1 percent in 2018, and to average 3.6 percent in 2019–20, says Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank, released today.

The growth forecasts are premised on expectations that oil and metals prices will remain stable, and that governments in the region will implement reforms to address macroeconomic imbalances and boost investment.

“Growth has rebounded in Sub-Saharan Africa, but not fast enough. We are still far from pre-crisis growth levels,” said Albert G. Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region. “African Governments must speed up and deepen macroeconomic and structural reforms to achieve high and sustained levels of growth.”

The moderate pace of economic expansion reflects the gradual pick-up in growth in the region’s three largest economies, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa. Elsewhere, economic activity will pick up in some metals exporters, as mining production and investment rise. Among non-resource intensive countries, solid growth, supported by infrastructure investment, will continue in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Growth prospects have strengthened in most of East Africa, owing to improving agriculture sector growth following droughts and a rebound in private sector credit growth; in Ethiopia, growth will remain high, as government-led infrastructure investment continues.

For many African countries, the economic recovery is vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and production,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Lead Economist and the author of the report.  “This underscores the need for countries to build resilience by pushing diversification strategies to the top of the policy agenda.”

Public debt relative to GDP is rising in the region, and the composition of debt has changed, as countries have shifted away from traditional concessional sources of financing toward more market-based ones. Higher debt burdens and the increasing exposure to market risks raise concerns about debt sustainability: 18 countries were classified at high-risk of debt distress in March 2018, compared with eight in 2013.

“By fully embracing technology and leveraging innovation, Africa can boost productivity across and within sectors, and accelerate growth,” said Zeufack.

This issue of Africa’s Pulse has a special focus on the role of innovation in accelerating electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its implications of achieving inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction. The report finds that achieving universal electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa will require a combination of solutions involving the national grid, as well as “mini-grids” and “micro-grids” serving small concentrations of electricity users, and off-grid home-scale systems. Improving regulation of the electricity sector and better management of utilities remain key to success.

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Multilateral Development Banks Present Study on Technology’s Impact on Jobs

MD Staff

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Rapid technological progress provides a golden opportunity for emerging and developing economies to grow faster and attain higher levels of prosperity. However, some disruptive technologies could displace human labor, widen income inequality, and contribute to greater informality in the workforce. Tapping new technologies in a way that maximizes benefits, mitigates adverse effects, and shares benefits among all citizens will require public-private cooperation and smart public policy.

That is one of the main conclusions of a new study, The Future of Work: Regional Perspectives, released today by four regional multilateral development institutions: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The study, which was presented at a seminar hosted 19 April at the IDB in Washington, D.C., explores the potential impact of technology in global labor markets and identifies concrete actions countries can take to prepare for the changing nature of jobs and leverage the benefits of emerging technologies.

The Future of Work: Regional Perspectives analyzes the challenges and opportunities presented by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics in what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Potential challenges include increased inequality and the elimination of jobs, as well as the high degree of uncertainty brought about by technological change and automation. The greatest opportunities come from gains in economic growth that can result from increased productivity, efficiency, and lower operating costs.

The study includes chapters focusing on how new technological developments already are affecting labor markets in each region.

In the case of Asia and the Pacific, ADB research shows that even in the face of advances in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence, there are compelling reasons to be optimistic about the region’s job prospects. New technologies often automate only some tasks of a job, not the whole. Moreover, job automation goes ahead only where it is both technically and economically feasible. Perhaps most importantly, rising demand—itself the result of the productivity benefits that new technologies bring—offsets job displacement driven by automation and contributes to the creation of new professions.

“ADB’s research shows that countries in Asia will fare well as new technology is introduced into the workplace, improving productivity, lowering production costs, and raising demand,” said Yasuyuki Sawada, ADB’s Chief Economist. “To ensure that everyone can benefit from new technologies, policymakers will need to pursue education reforms that promote lifelong learning, maintain labor market flexibility, strengthen social protection systems, and reduce income inequality.”

The publication was launched with a panel discussion featuring senior officials of the four regional development banks leading the study: Luis Alberto Moreno (IDB President), Charles O. Boamah (AfDB Senior Vice-President), Takehiko Nakao (ADB President), and Suma Chakrabarti (EBRD President). They were joined by Susan Lund (Lead of the McKinsey Global Institute) and Pagés, one of the co-authors.

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Circular economy: More recycling of household waste, less landfilling

MD Staff

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EU Parliament backs ambitious recycling targets, under legislation on waste and the circular economy, adopted on Wednesday.

Improving waste management will not only benefit the environment, climate, and human health. The four pieces of legislation are also part of a shift in EU policy towards a circular economy, i.e. a system where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible.

By 2025, at least 55% of municipal waste (from households and businesses) should be recycled, says the text, as agreed with Council of Ministers. The target will rise to 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035. 65% of packaging materials will have to be recycled by 2025, and 70% by 2030. Separate targets are set for specific packaging materials, such as paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and wood.

Landfilling to become an exception

The draft law also limits the share of municipal waste being landfilled to a maximum of 10% by 2035. In 2014, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent virtually no municipal waste to landfill, whereas Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Latvia and Malta still landfill more than three quarters of their municipal waste.

Textiles and hazardous waste from households will have to be collected separately by 2025. By 2024, biodegradable waste will also have to be either collected separately or recycled at home through composting.

Reduce food waste by 50 %

In line with the UN sustainable development goals, member states should aim to reduce food waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. In order to prevent food waste, member states should provide incentives for the collection of unsold food products and their safe redistribution. Consumer awareness of the meaning of “use by” and “best before” label dates should also be improved, say MEPs.

“With this package, Europe is firmly committed to sustainable economic and social development, which will at last integrate industrial policies and environmental protection”, said lead MEP Simona Bonafè (S&D, IT). “The circular economy is not only a waste management policy, but is a way to recover raw materials and not to overstretch the already scarce resources of our planet, also by profoundly innovating our production system”.

“This package also contains important measures on waste management, but at the same time goes further, by defining rules taking into account the entire life cycle of a product and aims to change the behaviour of businesses and consumers. For the first time, Member States will be obliged to follow a single, shared legislative framework”, she added.

Background: what is a circular economy?

A circular economy implies reducing waste to a minimum as well as re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. Moving towards a more circular economy will reduce pressure on the environment, enhance security of supply of raw materials, increase competitiveness, innovation and growth, and create jobs.

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