Saint-Gobain launches the Sustainable Construction Observatory
Mobilisation of the construction sector can lead to a sustainable reduction of housing and construction-related greenhouse gas emissions, while preserving non-renewable natural resources.
Saint-Gobain recently launched the Sustainable Construction Observatory and presented its findings from the first International Sustainable Construction Barometer. The observatory was launched with the aim of sharing knowledge and accelerating the global transformation of the construction sector.
“Saint-Gobain wants to be a benchmark, both a trendsetter and a driving force, to involve all stakeholders in the transition of the construction sector,” explains Benoit Bazin, chief executive officer of Saint-Gobain. The company aims to become carbon neutral by the year 2050.
Estie van Zyl, sustainability manager of Saint-Gobain Africa, explains that the observatory aligns with the company’s purpose, which is to make the world a better place and is in response to the awareness that climate change is accelerating. “The time to act is now and fast-track the field of sustainable construction,” says Van Zyl.
International Sustainable Construction Barometer
How: The study was conducted by French market research agency, CSA Institute.
When: November 2022 to February 2023.
Who: 802 respondents across four groups of 201 architect and allied professionals, 202 members of associations, 199 local elected officials and 200 construction, civil engineering, architecture and spatial design students.
Where: Ten countries (Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States of America).
Why: This cohort was chosen to represent each continent, to include developing and emerging countries, and based on historical sales data. Some of the emerging countries are currently facing climate change effects.
Results in brief
The feedback provides a snapshot of how these stakeholders perceive sustainable construction in a context of the fight against global warming, the need to preserve natural resources, the demographic explosion and increasing urbanisation.
The first results of the barometer show that sustainable construction is considered a priority by all parties in the main regions of the world. However, the full benefits of sustainable construction are not always considered, and the sector is not always clearly understood.
Sustainable construction by the numbers
A total of 88% say they know the concept of sustainable construction.
A total of 97% believe that the implementation of more sustainable buildings is a priority or important.
The definition given is mostly limited to environmental issues, without considering the social and human dimension.
In emerging countries, particularly in South Africa and India, which are more affected by climate problems and rapid urbanisation, awareness of the importance of sustainable construction (building quickly and well from the start) is heightened.
Only 30% of professionals surveyed have already done projects that take sustainable construction into account.
A total of 63% say that its implementation is a priority.
A total of 57% estimate that more than half of their activities will be in the field of sustainable construction within the next five years.
Students are the most convinced of the urgency of developing sustainable construction.
However, 55% say they would still accept a job offer in a company that is not invested in this sector.
The question arises as to what leverage the public and private sector should use to attract a young generation that is already committed and convinced of the urgency of action.
South African context
Whilst there is local awareness about the importance of sustainable construction and the need to accelerate this to combat the climate changes the country faces, there is an issue of standards and regulations. These need to be strengthened to see more sustainable construction projects. “Compliance with regulations, adherence to standards and public disclosure of these together with training and qualifications are key,” says Van Zyl.
Main drivers to accelerate sustainable construction
Competitiveness of solutions
Although building sustainably is not more expensive in the medium or long term, 70% of all respondents consider the perceived cost as one of the obstacles to developing sustainable construction.
By considering the entire lifecycle of a building, from the design to its renovation or demolition, sustainable construction solutions make it possible to conceive buildings that are:
Very well insulated (direct savings on the energy bill).
Resilient to climatic hazards.
Modular (possibility of multiplying the uses of the same building over time).
Able to reuse materials.
Sustainable construction also brings economic and social benefits through its impact on the well-being and comfort of occupants, while ongoing industrialisation of sustainable construction solutions will result in long-term price reductions.
The financial sector, banks and insurers could contribute to positive change by actively supporting the initiators of comprehensive renovation or new and sustainable construction projects.
A total of 44% of respondents believe that public institutions are the most legitimate stakeholders to advance sustainable construction. However, public contracts projects that do not consider sustainable construction methods are not excluded by officials.
A total of 52% of students cite private companies to accelerate the development of sustainable construction.
A total of 22% of students perceive elected officials as legitimate in advancing sustainable construction.
A total of 37% of respondents believe that increased regulatory requirements will accelerate the deployment of sustainable construction, which makes it the second-most important factor identified, after funding.
Better sector support
The Barometer reveals a gap between the importance given to the subject of training in sustainable construction techniques, and its expertise.
A total of 38% of professionals say they do not feel adequately trained.
A total of 61% of students consider the lack of training and qualification of professionals as one of the main obstacles in the development of the sector. This feeling is widely shared in emerging countries:
A total of 71% of respondents from South Africa, Brazil and India.
A total of 50% of respondents from Europe, the United States of America and Japan.
Locally, Saint-Gobain has a free contractor care programme, which seeks to train contractors and applicators about sustainability, and how to install and apply materials. A youth build programme is focussed on training youth from disadvantaged communities so that they can take this knowledge forward into a career in construction.
The Barometer’s findings are a strong signal for the entire sector – collective mobilisation is essential to lead the transition to sustainable construction. This requires a clarification of the definition of sustainable construction, regulatory changes, political will and commitment of a value chain that unites students, local elected officials, project leaders, banks and insurance companies.
A second survey is planned for 2024, which will include a wider range of countries in addition to the ten countries from the first survey. This is to track progress, awareness and commitment to sustainability.