A year after the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction sector has shown robust growth and contributed to the revival of economic activity in Pakistan. The housing and real estate activity has taken off on the back of an incentive package and low-cost housing projects announced by the government.
Till October last year, a total of 127 projects had been registered at an estimated cost of Rs.63 billion to avail the scheme. In addition, a further 114 projects worth around Rs.109 billion were also under the process of being registered.
Economic revival is a welcome sign, but we need not just build – we must build back better. The construction sector generally has a reputation for being slow to adapt to change. However, this new growth momentum could be the perfect opportunity for it to embrace sustainable practices and be mindful of the country’s commitments to UN SDG’s.
Globally, the construction sector accounts for around 28 percent of energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions and excessive usage of various natural resources, such as water. Pakistan is ranked amongst the countries with the highest energy consumption for domestic use.
The domestic sector consumes around 46 percent of the total energy, while the industrial sector accounts for about 27.5 percent. Almost half of the total energy consumed is used in buildings and or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and lighting appliances, compared to around 40 percent in European countries that face extreme weather conditions.
Therefore, particularly in view of persistent energy shortages in Pakistan, there is a dire need to fast track the development of energy-efficient and sustainable buildings to conserve natural resources and protect the environment from degradation.
Sustainable buildings give special consideration to the site accessibility, architecture and building design, building materials, impact on the environment and efficiency of natural resources like water and energy.
PVC: The material of choice
When it comes to building materials, today, plastics play a huge role in sustainable construction by being energy and resource-efficient while providing high-quality performance over a long period. In the developed world, PVC products are the preferred material choice.
They contribute significantly to energy efficiency through low thermal conductivity, thus, reducing the energy consumption for heating and air-conditioning. For example, PVC window profiles have three times the heat insulation efficiency of aluminum profiles.
Further, when compared with metal or glass products, PVC is proven to have a minimal environmental load in terms of CO2 emissions throughout its lifecycle from production to consumption and disposal.
In European Union, the use of plastics in construction is guided by environmental policies that aim to create a circular economy by reducing consumption, prolonging use, and recycling materials.
Be it PVC windows, water pipes or flooring, these products are known for easy installation and being cost-effective for the entirety of a building’s lifecycle, thus, reducing the need to manufacture new products.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) mentions a minimum reference service life of 35 years for PVC roofline products and windows, while PVC pipes are known to last for over 50 years.
PVC is a material well-suited for recycling compared to treated and rotted timber that cannot be recycled. Due to its thermostatic nature, PVC pipes and profiles (~82 percent of the total PVC market) can be recycled more than eight times without losing performance and generate up to 50 percent saving in energy and emissions.
As environment-friendly waste disposal is a major concern, it is worth highlighting that PVC generally represents less than 1 percent of municipal solid waste, mostly comes from the building sector and demolition.
One of the key barriers to promoting sustainability in construction is the higher upfront cost of design, technology, materials and methods. Therefore, it is perceived that sustainable practices will make a project unviable, which lowers the demand for green products and services.
This gap in perception needs to be closed by communicating the benefits of sustainable buildings and considering the overall costs incurred over the project’s entire lifecycle. Thus, there is a clear need to build general awareness among builders and contractors regarding sustainable practices, energy conservation and existing policies regarding energy-efficient structures.
Need to spread awareness
In 2014, a new set of regulations, called Energy Provisions 2011, were launched to promote energy-efficient design and construction in Pakistan. Drafted by the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) in collaboration with the National Energy Conservation Centre (Enercon) and the Housing Ministry, this was the first time in three decades that the building code’s existing energy provisions were updated in accordance with international best practices and latest industry standards.
Yet, like most other laws and regulations, these remain unimplemented and traditional methods, and designs are employed to construct new buildings. Further, it is critical that the code is updated on an ongoing basis to reflect recent developments in building technology.
Regular energy audits are also required by the authorities for existing buildings, particularly in the commercial sector, to monitor energy efficiency performance. Mass awareness and information dissemination campaigns can help to publicize the need for and benefits of greater energy efficiency.
The government should also consider running some successful pilot projects with private investors and other stakeholders to encourage the adoption of set energy efficiency standards and legal requirements.
Across all industries, Pakistan has generally lagged in the adoption of global standards and certifications. To showcase its commitment to promoting sustainable practices in the construction industry, the government should collaborate with green building certification awarding bodies, such as NESPAK and NEECA-Pakistan, for some of its flagship large scale projects.
This will boost the demand for other green products and services and set a precedent for the private builders. As global investors become increasingly conscious of the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria to select projects for funding, the compliance with green management standards could open new avenues for attracting massive sums of foreign capital in the country’s construction sector.
The government may also offer tax incentives, fee waivers, early clearance and concessionary loans to builders who develop projects in line with the principles of a green economy.
For example, in India, buildings with green certification are given priority environmental clearance, along with rebates on property tax and development charges. Driven by strong regulatory support and increased awareness levels about environmental issues, it is estimated that India’s green building market will be valued at around USD 35-50 billion by 2022.
It is high time that Pakistan’s construction sector joins the global green movement. We must adopt new innovations and technologies in building design through improved architecture, use of energy-efficient building materials, electrical appliances, and implement building energy efficiency codes.
Read more: Climate Change and Pakistan’s Water Security
Green construction presents the benefits of improving living standards and conserving energy and water, but to date, no serious efforts have been made to promote sustainable practices in the industry.
With the general lack of awareness and training around green construction, the onus lies on the government to create an enabling environment and form partnerships with the private sector to promote this as a financially viable and beneficial proposition for all stakeholders