To conserve freshwater sources, industries like construction must take the lead

15 Juli 2022

Photo: Pixabay/Ricobino

By Angelica Krystle Donati

Four billion people, over half of the global population, experience water scarcity at least once a year and 1.42 billion people live in areas of high-water vulnerability. The water cycle is being disrupted by climate change, and consumption habits that are unsustainable and polluting pose a threat to the false sense of security that is far too prevalent, particularly in the industrialized world.

Therefore, effective sustainable water management and sustainable construction should be at the top of everyone’s priorities as we get ready to deal with the long-term effects of climate change.

According to the United Nations, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. We need to work on achieving net zero and we must avoid reaching 3°C, which would be catastrophic.

Water stress in Europe

The European Commission says that at least 11% of Europeans and 17% of EU territory are affected by water scarcity, which is a common and alarming phenomenon. Droughts have become more frequent and severe in Europe since 1980, costing an estimated €100 billion over the past 30 years.

Most recently, Italy has been suffering its worst drought in 70 years, amid soaring temperatures and a severe lack of rainfall. Whilst Italy is the country with the most water in Europe, the country has a lack of infrastructure that has never been renewed and dates back to the post-war period.

The situation is putting many industries at risk, in particular the agriculture sector which is shouldering the costs. According to Italy’s national farmers’ confederation Coldiretti, the shortage of water has already caused €3bn worth of damage. This extreme situation is without a doubt linked to global warming.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), in southern and south-western Europe, river discharge during the summer might decrease by up to 40% under a 3°C temperature rise scenario, the patterns are particularly concerning.

To reduce the effects of water stress on people and the environment, Europe must, overall, improve the resilience of its ecosystems and utilize water more wisely. The EEA assessment states that both of these concerns have laws and regulations in place at the European level, but that their execution and efficiency need to be improved.

Most importantly, we have the responsibility to recognise that what we are doing today should meet our present needs without compromising those of future generations.

Construction industry at the core of the climate change debate

The effects of climate change are felt strongly by people, society, and enterprises. It is becoming clearer that a transition to a low-carbon economy is necessary and the building and construction industry is crucial to this change.

Around 40% of global GHG emissions are attributed to the construction industry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The materials utilized, as well as the heating, cooling, and lighting of buildings and infrastructure, are the main sources of these emissions.

However, there are very few incentives for the construction sector to tackle climate change. In construction, more needs to be done by public and private owners to incentivize contractors to invest in innovative and environmentally friendly solutions.

Construction companies should be rewarded with strong fiscal incentives to be green and on the tender level, there needs to be a green incentive as well.

Managing water consumption on construction sites

One of the key components in building is water, which is necessary for the preparation of mortar, the mixing of cement concrete, and the curing of work. In fact, the sector uses a significant amount of water in its daily activities, consuming it at every step of a project’s lifecycle.

Millions of gallons of water are wasted during construction as many businesses do not have suitable safeguards in place to limit excessive water use. Here is where green construction has a major impact on water conservation.

Several water-saving technologies are currently in use, including the reuse of water and the implementation of effective water supply systems that guarantee the management and recycling of water.

In order to minimize water waste, the industry must carefully review its current methods to use water wisely. At every stage of a building project, including planning and design, water conservation should be prioritized in order to preserve the sustainability of such a vital natural resource.

To adapt to the changing demands of the construction market and to assure the transformation of the industry, sustainable construction and green innovation are essential.

Builders and developers are becoming more and more conscious of the many advantages associated with using cutting-edge construction techniques that are cleaner, more environmentally friendly, and contribute to consuming less water and waste.

Angelica Krystle Donati is head of business development at Donati S.P.A., a leading construction and investment company in Italy, and president of the country’s national constructors’ association ANCE Giovani.

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