48 (143) 2021

Green Transformation

Greener at the core

By Christopher Siemieński, sales and marketing manager, Skanska
Header skanska

The construction industry is one of the oldest industries in the world. The moment man became sedentary, construction began to flourish, becoming more and more complex over time to meet society’s growing demands. We went from huts and watermills to skyscrapers and hydro-electric dams! Therefore it is not surprising that, today, with the amount of resources needed to build a building or an infrastructural project such as a dam or a highway, the construction industry generates about 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions – from raw material extraction through construction, to building exploitation. As depressing as that might sound, it’s worth pointing out we are entering a new era of technological revolution, permitting a new approach towards the dinosaur industry that is construction!

Luckily, Skanska is at the forefront of this green re/evolution. Skanska Group plans to be a net-zero carbon emitter by 2045. As a group, construction and development, we’ve already decreased our carbon emissions by 34% and our carbon intensity by 36% since 2015.

But why do this? One obvious reason is governmental regulation. For example, the EU aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. The US has recommitted to the Paris Agreement. But putting government policies aside, Skanska develops and builds for its end users. With the increasing environmental pressures such as water scarcity, flooding, drought, heatwaves, storms and forest fires, Skanska wants to make sure that its clients receive a product that can withstand the effects of climate change and ensure that the long-term value of the their asset is assured. “Nonsense” you say? An “overreaction” you think? The Japanese have been designing and building their assets to withstand the capriciousness of mother nature for decades. Granted, earthquakes, which are not caused by emissions, are sudden, dramatic and their devastation is easily quantified, but this an extreme example of building construction adapting to the environment and its dangers. Another older example would be the Dutch and the fact that about a quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level and is protected by dykes.

So how does Skanska ensure that infrastructure assets and building assets can withstand the list of environmental stressors mentioned in the previous paragraph? We reduce the footprint of our activity by carefully choosing materials, using resources efficiently (reduction of waste) and keeping in mind circularity. For this to make sense, Skanska looks at its emissions in the entire value chain: from supply (materials), through construction all the way to operations (projects that we develop).

Let’s start from the end of the value chain. When we talk about ‘operations’ (building usage), one of the first things that comes to mind is building certification, more specifically LEED, BREEAM and DGNB, (the German Sustainable Building Council). These certifications are a well-known phenomenon in the world, as well as in Poland. The steps for acquiring them are numerous and often challenging. For buildings to receive this type of certification, it requires significant planning at the design phase, as well as a significant amount of planning at the execution phase. However, what might not be common knowledge is that Skanska Group finances some of its projects with green bonds, through its Green Bond Framework (verified independently by CICERO, a provider of independent, research-based evaluations of green bond investment frameworks to determine their environmental robustness). Projects financed through this framework must aim at certification from one of the three above-mentioned certification programmes. Skanska issued its first green bonds in 2014 with a second issue completed in 2018 of a value of SEK 1 billion.

In 2020, 130 ongoing or completed projects developed by Skanska globally were in the process of being certified with the highest ratings of third-party certifications such as LEED and BREEAM. As a result, these are among our most profitable projects! Skanska certified buildings use on average 42% less energy than the LEED’s certification base-line. Those savings add up!!!

Because the construction phase is relatively short, anywhere between 6 to 28 months, and consists mostly of the processing of construction materials, it is a less outstanding phase, but nevertheless there are a few things that are worth mentioning. Aside from the maintenance of clean sites, the proper segregation of disposed materials and the use of LED lighting wherever possible, all of our construction sites in Poland are powered with renewable energy through the Green Tariff by Tauron. We also monitor the carbon emissions of our vehicles and counteract those emissions by planting trees.

That being said, I would like to focus your attention on the supply chain, which causes the bulk of emissions in a development project. To reduce emissions at this level, it requires a deep value-change in the way we think about and use materials such as asphalt, concrete, bricks and wood. But this can only happen if all the stakeholders in the Skanska value chain cooperate by implementing innovative design, circularity, low-carbon materials, renewable energy and efficient transport. Here are a few examples of innovative, environmentally friendly solutions used by Skanska in various projects.

In 2020 Skanska rolled out its first close-to-climate-neutral asphalt in Ludvika, Sweden. This means three things. The first is that the asphalt is manufactured in fossil-free fuel plants. The second is that the asphalt contains 70% recycled asphalt, previously used on other roads. Thirdly, part of the bitumen is replaced by a renewable binder. This is extremely relevant because bitumen is extracted from crude oil and accounts for almost half of the climate footprint of traditional asphalt.

Concrete is another key component of construction. Did you know that it can be recycled? Skanska has developed a residential project in the Czech Republic, Čertův vršek, where all of the concrete elements were made entirely from Rebetong – recycled concrete! This reduces the need for extracting the raw materials needed to make concrete, and it also reduces waste sent to landfills. These two factors create a reduction in carbon emissions of around 12% compared to regular concrete. An additional benefit of Rebetong is its higher insulating parameters, thus lowering energy consumption costs throughout a building’s life cycle.

This same Czech project is equipped with a grey-water treatment system to flush toilets with recycled water and not potable water. It also has an accumulation tank in which rainwater is collected and then used to water the building’s communal and private gardens.

Another fun fact is that Skanska is the first company to use smog-eating concrete in the CEE region! The concrete captures the emissions from a vehicle’s exhaust pipe and with the help of the sun’s rays, eliminates significant amounts of nitrogen oxide, which is a key ingredient of smog.

Skanska in Poland is also one of the first companies to use flexible solar panels made of perovskite. These panels can be placed on entire elevations of buildings or roofs of warehouses. We are still in the test phase of this new technology, however, the initial findings are promising!

Our residential project, Epic, in Malmö, Sweden is another example of innovative upcycling. A total of 35,221m of window frames were reused from another project, where the old windows had to be dismantled. Also, 17 tonnes of leftover bricks from the façade of the old project were reused as flooring in our Epic building.

Perhaps these examples are lackluster compared to the Japanese high-rises that can withstand an earthquake or the Dutch that find themselves below sea level, but these are examples of the construction industry’s evolution to various types of pressure. Huts and watermills didn’t turn into high rises and hydro-electric dams overnight. It took centuries. Luckily, we are entering an era where the construction industry can really make a positive impact on the environment, or perhaps we should say “less of an impact” on the environment. The more investors and construction companies make the environment their priority, the less we will have a negative impact on it! If you are interested in finding out more about Skanska and our sustainable policies, please read our 2020 annual report; it can be easily found on our website: www.skanska.com

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