The scale of the sustainability issues and challenges confronting the Construction Industry (Web-site of European Commission)
The construction industry is Europe’s largest industrial employer, accounting for 7.5% of total employment and 28,1% of industrial employment in the EU. It also accounted for 9,7% of GDP and 47,6% of gross fixed capital formation in 1999. The "cradle to grave" aspects linked to the creation, use and disposal of built facilities taken together constitute major environmental impacts. Construction activities consume more raw materials by weight (as much as 50%) than any other industrial sector. The built environment moreover, accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (about 40%) in terms of energy end usage. Measured by weight, construction and demolition activities also produce Europe’s largest waste stream, (between 40% and 50%)most of which though, is recyclable.
We are often reminded that the industrialized nations are consuming the world’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the consumption of fossil fuels.
This implies that the construction industry – and the sustainability of its products: principally buildings – in order to become more sustainable in the long term, faces an environmental challenge that, in absolute terms is greater than that of any other industrial sector.
For too many years, nation states have been remarkably slow in recognising the scale of the difficulties involved in achieving sustainability in the built environment. Moreover, these are no longer simply national issues or even European ones; they are global in their extent.
The importance of employment in construction brings with it significant social and economic impacts. As economic activity and investment expands, construction activities create considerable employment opportunities. Moreover, the multiplier effect (Communication from the European Commission: "The Competitiviness of the Construction Industry" COM(97)539 dated November 1997, chapter 2) is such that one job in construction gives rise to two further jobs in the economy as a whole. Not surprisingly therefore, investment in construction is sometimes used by governments to reduce unemployment in the economy.
The so-called "three pillars of sustainable development" are "economic", "social" and "environmental". "social" is sometimes referred to as "societal" covering a wider scope of social, cultural, ethical, juridical, etc. impacts. The integration of social and environmental protection into EU policies is now a requirement of the EU Treaty. Consequently, an "holistic" approach is called for in addressing these issues.
One of the aims of this report is to demonstrate the scale of the issues involved, beginning with an assessment of the environmental challenges the industry faces. It puts forward recommendations aimed at developing strategies to mitigate the environmental impacts of construction activities and of the built environment in Europe.
It is based on the premise that achieving these objectives will require a two pronged approach; firstly, a highly competitive construction industry, and secondly, carefully crafted environmentally focused strategies for the sector. The involvement of all stakeholders, particularly national governments, with the EU Institutions playing a significant coordinating role is crucial in striving for a real improvement in raising the level of sustainability...