Constructing a sustainable future

21 December 2023
A multifaceted strategy is needed to meet the housing needs of a growing global population while minimising the environmental impact

The construction industry has remained a significant player in global social development and will continue to do so.

Between achieving development and sustainability, the world’s construction industry finds itself at a critical crossroads. This is because while helping to mееt the demands of the еvеr-growing population, the industry has also largely contributed to increased carbon emissions worldwide.

Because of this, it becomes an intricate issue, especially now that it concerns millions of people living in informal settlements across the world without any basic infrastructure.

Carbon emissions

Nearly 40 per cent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to the construction industry. Achieving sustainable development requires addressing these emissions.

Discussions at Cop28 highlighted the need for innovation to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, including the reduction of new builds and the utilisation of the current building inventory instead.  

Population growth

In 2020, the world’s real estate assets reached $326.5tn. Residential is the largest real estate sector, accounting for 79 per cent of all global real estate value.

The global population has risen to unprecedented levels, growing from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to over 7.9 billion by 2023. With millions living without homes or in informal settlements, this exponential increase poses a critical challenge: providing housing and infrastructure.

A large percentage of the global population lives in informal settlements characterised by inadequate housing, a lack of basic services and often precarious living conditions. Over one billion people live in these settlements, so there is a clear need for inclusive and sustainable housing solutions.

The lack of basic infrastructure compounds the challenges those living in informal settlements face. Access to clean water, sanitation and electricity remains a luxury for many, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

Dual role

It is essential to recognise that repurposing existing structures to reduce emissions cannot address the housing crisis by itself. As a result, billions of people lack adequate housing and basic infrastructure, requiring further construction to be carried out.

Despite governments’ commendable efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the relentless population growth remains a formidable obstacle. In my opinion, building new homes for a growing population and striving for sustainability are two challenges for the construction industry and the SDG. 

The construction industry must pioneer innovative solutions to build a sustainable future. The sector can reduce carbon emissions by employing green building methods, sustainable materials and energy-efficient technologies without compromising its ability to address housing inequalities in the process.

We face challenging times in the 21st century, and the construction industry stands at the centre of these changes.

When it comes to meeting the housing needs of a growing global population while minimising the environmental impact, there is a need for a multifaceted strategy.

By combining collaboration, innovation, sustainability and a commitment to equality, the construction industry can help build a future where everyone has a home, basic infrastructure and a sustainable environment.

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