The global marketplace is becoming more and more decentralised, with South African companies increasingly venturing across borders and oceans. In the built environment, sourcing products and services from local or global suppliers each has its own set of advantages and drawbacks, but with the lines becoming more blurred than ever before, some organisations are pursuing a more unified approach to construction projects.
Global standard in construction costing
The International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) is a new, high level international standard that aims to provide greater global consistency in classifying, defining, measuring, analysing and presenting construction costs. A group of professional and not-for-profit organisations from across the globe are working together to implement these standards for benchmarking, measuring and reporting construction costs.
EduTech Director, Karl Trusler, who is representing the ASAQS in the ICMS coalition, says that a global standard in cost reporting will benefit a number of players in the local built environment including architects, quantity surveyors, developers and contractors.
“When there is global consistency in how construction costs of a project are represented, investors and clients are able to compare apples with apples. Through the introduction of a standardised cost reporting template, the ICMS is succeeding in creating a common language for the global built environment. “Regardless of where they are based, clients can use the ICMS as a guideline to determine where in the world they should develop their projects to achieve the best returns thanks to the consistency and benchmarking it provides. It has the potential to level the playing field globally,” says Karl.
Benefits to architects
Architects would benefit from knowing about ICMS through the cost information and benchmarking it provides. Supported by this information, architects would be better equipped to contribute to the decision-making process when considering future developments both locally and abroad.
“The stand-out benefit is that real comparisons of construction projects can be made, and these comparisons will guide more informed decision making. An increasing number of professionals are becoming involved in projects across our borders into the rest of Africa and beyond. To become and remain globally relevant, they should consider matching their project reporting to an internationally accepted standard. The ICMS speaks to this consideration,” says Karl.
Input from industry on local vs global materials
FLOORS in Africa magazine spoke to Kirsty Schoomie, Associate at Paragon Interface, Marloes Reinink, Founder of Solid Green Consulting as well as Grahame Cruickshanks and Manfred Braune from the Green Building Council of South Africa to gather some insights on locally and globally sourced materials in construction projects.
1. What are some of the benefits of local vs globally sourced construction materials in terms of sustainability and cost?
Kirsty: Both the overseas market and local market are so competitive that you can find top quality products from international companies and South African manufacturers these days. The type of products you choose will depend on the project, the quantities of the product you require, and the design guidelines that need to be followed. European products still tend to be a bit more advanced in terms of performance, but South African manufacturers are close on their European counterparts’ heels, with an increasing number of local manufacturers having their products tested and certified according to international standards.
Marloes: Locally sourced materials usually have a lower carbon footprint as they do not have to travel the world and locally sourced materials support local business and the local economy.
GBCSA: It is important to understand the full lifecycle impact of materials when specifying them and to ensure that the sustainability factors of the products are correctly documented and independently verified by a relevant standard such as the ISO Standards and Independent eco labels , for example. This will assist in the evaluation of local and globally sourced materials and can lead to surprising results on the benefits and impacts of local vs global materials. Taking an integrated approach to building design will almost certainly lead to optimal results in building performance as well as a clear understanding of how to reduce the environmental impact of local and globally sourced materials. This requires a professional team that is willing to explore new design and construction technologies.
Other things to consider include the embodied energy and embodied water of materials throughout their lifecycle, the contribution to building performance, potential for re-use and recycling, toxic emissions, recycled content of materials. There are additional sustainability factors to consider such as for example for timber, to consider whether it is FSC certified, or where a greater range of international timber products are FSC certified than local timber..
2. What are some of the common misconceptions about locally vs globally sourced products?
Kirsty: The most common ones are that imported products are more expensive and South African products are of a lower quality. In the past, products from overseas were more expensive, but the price of quality materials continues to come down, making it more affordable to source products from overseas. There also used to be a misperception that locally produced materials weren’t of the same standard as products from overseas, but South African manufactured products are increasingly meeting very high sustainability standards. One differentiator remains the development of new products and innovations. International players generally spend more on research and development, leading them to continue to set the trends in the market.
Marloes: A differentiation with overseas products is that most of them have eco-labels, and companies are usually further advanced in terms of sustainability policies and documents.
GBCSA: Globally sourced materials will always have a larger transport related carbon footprint – this is not always the case. For example, if a product is needed in Durban and can be sourced from China via ship with millions of tons of material on it going to Durban vs coming from Cape Town via a truck with a few tons of a material, which of the two options has a lower transport related carbon footprint? One would need to do an actual calculation based on the actual carbon emissions and tons of material transported. You can’t make assumptions without this calculation.
Another misconception is that locally sourced materials are always cheaper. There are many different factors that impact the cost of materials. Also, just because it’s local doesn’t make it more ethically sourced. Locally sourced products aren’t always more ethically produced because they are local – it always depends on the specific company and its ethics.
3. How can designers focus on improving the sustainability of their projects without running up the costs?
Kirsty: Being clever about the materials that you choose for a project can help clients make their projects more sustainable without running up costs. The right materials can also go a long way to make a project more eco-conscious. Researching everything from adhesives and sealants to larger products such as a flooring system can empower clients to be more green without adding a hefty price tag to their interior installations. It’s also important to remember that there are lead times involved in ordering products from overseas, so be sure to source your sustainable materials well in advance.
Marloes: Sustainable products are not necessarily more expensive. Designers should interrogate manufacturers on their green credentials and look for eco-labels on products. In South Africa, we have eco-standard and Eco-specifier testing and labelling products. Designers can also look for products that have recycled content in them and reuse as many materials as possible to limit the amount of new virgin materials used in their projects.
GBCSA: There are many different ways to keep costs down while achieving sustainability outcomes. Focus first on passive design features to create more energy and water efficient, as well as thermally comfortable buildings, rather than throwing technology at this. Apply the local context and local environment in the design, rather than trying to copy other designs and solutions from projects in other locations. When using technology, use tried and tested technology that doesn’t cost a premium as this can achieve the required sustainability objectives without spending any additional cost. Ensure that the design team works in an integrated manner to achieve a cohesive design, with much better outcomes than if everyone works in silos. Use professionals, contractors and suppliers that are experienced or willing to invest time in understanding how to deliver sustainable buildings at no or minimal extra cost.
Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.asaqs.co.za , www.paragon.co.za, www.solidgreen.co.za and www.gbcsa.co.za for some of the information provided to write this article.
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