Tech changes the game for sustainable future in construction

LBS alumna Evie Boustantzi discusses the power of LBS’s international community and the importance of opening one’s mind to intrapreneurship and innovation

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Multi-platform technology entrepreneur and space pioneer Elon Musk is divesting himself of his property portfolio. Once he has sold his last mansion in Hillsborough, California - on the market for $37.5m – he is out of the property game. Today, billionaire Musk reportedly lives in a $50,000 prefabricated tiny home built by Las Vegas company Boxabl.

The pre-fab, towable, 400-square-foot home is more durable and efficient than traditional homes. UAE has been an innovator in this practice, and in March Dubai Municipality won the UAE Ideas Award organised by the Dubai Quality Group under the slogan, ‘Nothing is Impossible,’ for the category of ‘Innovation in the field of inventions’ for constructing the World’s largest 3D Printed Building. The initiative yielded a saving in construction costs of between 50-70%, and labour costs by 50-80%, in addition to reducing the percentage of waste resulting from construction operations by up to 60%.

A First World billionaire’s ambition to downsize and reduce his carbon footprint, and Dubai Municipality proving that sustainability in housing does not necessarily need to be modestly sized. One could not find a better illustration of the unifying influence and power of the global community’s response to climate change. It is also a marvellous example and what one might term the ‘force multiplier’ power of technological innovation.

The construction industry attracts its fair share of criticism around the world; the main areas of concern are air, water and noise pollution. Indeed, it is an industry that sometimes been a slow adopter of new practices and technologies.

That might be termed the argument for the prosecution. Let us see what ballast one can find for signs of a construction industry that is on the move, progressive in its approach to innovation and sustainability. The World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, recently signed at COP26 by 44 businesses, calls on the building and construction sector to take action to decarbonise the built environment, inspire others to take similar action, and to remove barriers to implementation. It recognises leadership action to reduce the impacts of the sector, which is globally responsible for 36% of energy consumption, 38% of energy related carbon emissions, 50% of resource consumption, and expected to double in total footprint by 2060.

Within the UAE, according to last year’s UAE Green Building Market Brief released by the Emirates Green Building Council the UAE (EmiratesGBC), the country has 63.96 million square metres of built up area adapted to local green building regulations or certification programmes. The in-depth publication also revealed the number of buildings under various green building ratings across the UAE region.

His Excellency Ali Al Jassim, Chairman of EmiratesGBC, said the study presented evidence-backed insights on the progress achieved by the UAE in promoting sustainable built environments.

These are indeed impressive and important developments, but perhaps there is more to discover and learn. As an alumna of London Business School Dubai, I learnt a lot about the power of the School’s international community, and in particular, the importance of opening one’s mind to intrapreneurship and innovation. As such, I tend to find myself drawn to not only the big landscape opportunities, but also grass roots initiatives and smaller enterprises which seek to apply clever technical solutions to ever-expanding applications of technologies such as IoT and 3D printing.

As has been observed by many in the industry, SMEs can be more flexible and ready to adapt technical solutions to the finer requests of the construction client, which is why it was heartening to learn that the UAE Development Bank is to pump $8bn into the industry. In particular, there are plans to enable SMEs to become core pieces of the ecosystem, and to promote local entrepreneurship and startups.

The notion that new, clever technologies and innovative companies might one day be behind ‘green retrofitting’, or creating clever solutions for fast, sustainable construction systems cannot fail to capture the imagination.

Moreover, perhaps one day soon there will be innumerable innovative construction and construction service companies operating across the UAE and other parts of the world, and perhaps an ever-growing number of would-be Elon Musks, ready and willing to forsake the world of the grande maison, showing the way to greener, more sustainable future.

Evie Boustantzi, Managing Director, Real Estate Operations, Emirates National Investment. Evie holds an EMBA degree from London Business School (2013) and is President LBS Alumni, Middle East (Gulf Association). This article first appeared in Al Bayan the Arabic language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, and more recently in Gulf News.