The race towards infrastructural sustainability

By Xavier Kong

WITH consumers of the world steadily becoming more environmentally conscious, it stands to reason that the major industries of the world will follow along with the wants of the consumer. As things go, the buildings we inhabit and the infrastructure surrounding them also form a big part of daily life.

It is only logical that not only will lifestyle choices become more sustainable (no more single-use plastics!) but life choices will favour the environmentally friendly as well.

Enter the Works Ministry which, through its agency, the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), has established the Construction Industry Transformation Programme (CITP), a national agenda to transform the construction industry through four strategic thrusts: quality, safety and professionalism, environmental sustainability, productivity and internationalisation. But let’s focus on environmental sustainability for this, considering the topic of this piece.

A key focus about environmental sustainability is the means through which it is measured, and benchmarks vary far and wide across the world. Towards this end, CIDB has established “Sustainable Infrastar”, an objective and evidence-based evaluation system that assesses an infrastructure project on key sustainability factors, such as land use, the environmental impact of the equipment used, and the management of both resources and waste on construction sites.

According to CIDB, Sustainable Infrastar is based on similar systems such as CEEQUAL in the United Kingdom, Envision in the United States, ISCA in Australia, and Pearl Estidama in the United Arab Emirates, “but with the aspects mixed and matched to be suitable for Malaysia,” according to CIDB chief executive Datuk Ahmad ‘Asri Abdul Hamid.

Launched in March last year, Sustainable Infrastar is meant to cover the gap in addressing environmental concerns for the construction industry and complements other tools such as the Malaysian Carbon Reduction and Environmental Sustainability Tool (MyCREST) for building construction, as well as the Malaysia Green Highway Index.

CIDB had recently certified the Light Rail Transit Line 3 (LRT3) project by MRCB George Kent Sdn Bhd with a five-star rating under the Design facet of Sustainable Infrastar, marking it as the first non-pilot project to be evaluated, as well as the first to score such a high certification.

But let’s not look too far for a comparative measure, as Malaysia already has a friendly Asean-member neighbour with its own plan for national sustainability. Yes, Singapore has its own plan as well, called the Singapore Sustainable Blueprint, which aims to have 80% of the nation’s buildings achieving a Green Mark Certification by 2030.

Singapore has been looking at sustainable development for years, culminating in 2005 when the government launched the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark scheme, which led to the first iteration of the city-state’s first Green Building Masterplan in 2006, which sought to “encourage, enable and engage industry stakeholders to adopt new green buildings.”

The second iteration launched in 2009 shifted the focus to “greening” the existing building stock, in accordance with the nation’s target of having at least 80% of their buildings being green by 2030. 

Now, the third iteration, which will run concurrently with the first two, seeks to “engage building tenants and occupants more actively to drive energy consumption behavioural change and to address the well-being of the people.”

But what we want from here is the BCA Green Mark’s infrastructure criteria, which would serve as a benchmark against which we can measure Malaysia’s own Sustainable Infrastar.

A key difference here is that the BCA Green Mark has an emphasis on water, which is understandable considering Singapore has a lack of water sources, but the city-state’s emphasis on resolving this particular issue has marked them as a “Global Hydro-Hub” model, with city development portal Smart Cities Dive identifying Singapore as an example for other cities around the world in utilising urban green infrastructure to mitigate megadroughts.

However, a majority of the core criteria retains the same idea of making sure that infrastructure is built with as little impact to the environment as possible, while minimising wastage and stressing efficiency in energy and material resources. An emphasis is also placed on the well-being of society, whether it be residents nearby or through social responsibility initiatives.

These are all in line with the Sustainable Development Goals as put forth by the United Nations in 2015, and each shows a commendable effort in getting the respective benchmarks right and tailored to the needs of the individual nation.

Still, will all of this be soon enough?

“The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and now director emeritus of the Potsdam Climate Institute, according to a BBC News report on climate change.

On that note, should every nation really be looking at separate benchmarks or guidelines in determining what is green and sustainable and what is not? Consider the fact that all of us on this good green earth are now in a race against the clock, as the above sentiment has been echoed independently by climate researchers.

Feasibility will always remain an issue, but the idea that there are still people, and worse, people in power, who think climate change is a hoax is a horrifying thought. Here’s hoping that everyone will listen before it really is too late.

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