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Innovation and collaboration: A game plan for a green construction recovery

As a CEO and in collaboration with our industry partners and thousand of employees, I’m privileged to help shape the cities of the future. This possibility is a huge source of personal motivation; it drives me to do more and to dream of more sustainable environments.

By Pierre Pomerleau 

The construction industry has the opportunity to create living environments that respond to the aspirations of future generations. This opportunity to drive the green recovery also puts us at the forefront of achieving this vision, one which is becoming increasingly important to our communities; more so since governments, through various infrastructure projects, have clearly recognized our industry’s leading role in this recovery.

Two weeks ago, I took some time to discuss this issue in my remarks to the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. In my opinion, our future lies in sustainable construction – which we’ve made a strategic priority at Pomerleau. However, I want to delve into this because there’s a lot to say on this topic. We’ve already seen some ground-breaking changes in recent years: the use of prefab, modular construction, and building information modeling (BIM). Now, the time has come to make our future living spaces more environmentally friendly. Projects such as the REM, which in turn have opened up the possibility of creating Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) communities, will set the bar. Companies such as our subsidiary Borea – which has carved out a significant niche in renewable energy construction – must become the new gold standard.

Our role in this shift will be crucial. We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform our communities for good. We must rise to this challenge.

In my view, two skills are essential to achieving such a transformation: innovation and collaboration. Innovation leads us to find new ways to achieve our goals. To this end, we started building momentum about a decade ago, notably by seeking LEED certification. Since then, interest has waned even though it’s become the new normal. Instead, this approach must become the gold standard, even if every new build becomes LEED Platinum certified.

The pandemic must become our opportunity to restart and amplify our environmental efforts – and this starts with the call for tenders. There must be a political will to value these efforts in public contracts. Climate change efforts, sustainable development, and social responsibility must now be integrated into every request for proposals. Let’s take the deconstruction of the old Champlain bridge. We’ll be able to not only recycle nearly 100% of the project’s concrete and steel, but we’ll also execute it in a way that minimizes its impact on the surrounding marine ecosystem.

Gathering data will also become a new construction priority. This already happens during the building phases, and creates efficiencies, with technologies such as Spot the robot dog, virtual reality, and 3D laser scans to help us get there. That said, we can also collect data during construction to create a digital twin of the building, for example, and use this data in real time to generate savings in HVAC usage. In short, this approach will be useful in operating the buildings, notably by leveraging this data to develop smart buildings with smaller carbon footprints. This culture of innovation and openness to change is exactly what we need to encourage to successfully achieve this transition.

This is where a strong collaborative movement involving the entire industry becomes crucially important, since the full ecosystem must work together to add value to its community. This pivot will be driven by collaboration, the strength of our people, and the diversity of our overall expertise.

There’s marked excitement for the Committed Contractor movement, through which we’ve developed a collaborative approach to help us meet the challenges generated by the pandemic. Competitors who had never spoken to one another in the past decided to join forces in order to develop reliable public health standards for all worksite employees. Today, we have the opportunity to keep this mindset alive and make sure this green shift extends beyond the recovery alone. We represent an entire ecosystem that creates value for our community, so this transformation must unify us all: clients, designers, partners, tradespeople, and supply chain vendors all hold part of the ultimate solution in their hands.

Let’s use the pandemic as a springboard to drive transformation and make our vision into reality. This is an unprecedented opportunity to redefine construction together, from concept to completion – everywhere, at all times, and without compromise.