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Construction cannot simply just sail along

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by Korky Koroluk

EllisDon Corp. is smart to change its business model because the trend in industries such as construction, clean energy and agriculture, is to offer more services, such as design and maintenance.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

Column | Construction Corner

Reading the account of EllisDon chief executive officer Geoff Smith’s recent speech at a forum sponsored by the Canadian Construction Association, one paragraph caught my eye above all the others.

As reported in the Daily Commercial News, Smith, CEO of EllisDon, said he believes that “everything about the structure of the Canadian construction industry, internally and externally, is going to change.”

“Everyone,” he added, “is going to continue to invade each other’s space.”

He’s right, of course. But other industries are changing too, with firms taking on new challenges that put them in competition in areas previously strange to them. I’m thinking here of the agriculture industry, where makers of irrigation equipment have become system designers and installers, doing maintenance and repair, and financing the whole thing as a single, comprehensive package. The same thing is happening in the clean-energy field.

So it’s not surprising that more construction companies are getting into design-build, and perhaps adding facility management and energy management. Everyone seems to be offering more as a way to compete and keep the company alive.

It’s no wonder EllisDon is changing its business model, that it will, in Smith’s words, “look very different five or 10 years from now.”

Things are happening faster than ever before. Some people have said that over the course of the next 40 years, science is poised to create more knowledge than humans have created in all of recorded history.

That, in itself, promises to be overwhelming. And while we cope with that we also have to cope with unintended consequences of our past actions — like climate change and loss of biodiversity, pollution and a global population explosion. The construction industry — no industry — can plan on simply sailing along in its same old niche, unaffected by the world around it.

We’re designing and building structures now of a sort no one even thought about a decade ago. In Toronto, for example, we’re seeing a whole new vision for health-care buildings. The new Women’s College Hospital, which will begin construction next year, will offer an open, spacious building that will combine research and education with specialized clinics, as well as general care attuned to the needs of women.

In the Netherlands, a rehabilitation centre is set within a forested area and offers things like sports facilities, a theatre, a restaurant, and shares them all with the general public.

In South Africa, several “wellness” centres are planned for urban and rural areas. They’re to be called “health promotion lifestyle centres,” a reflection of their mandate. They will be built using innovative materials as well as more traditional things like masonry block, or brick.

There’s a carbon-neutral hospital under construction in Sechelt, B.C.

These projects all require a different way of looking at construction.

Most of us are fairly comfortable with LEED by now, and I read, also in DCN, that an EllisDon project in Toronto might qualify for LEED Platinum, even though LEED Gold was the original objective.

I’ve written before about the International Living Building Institute, and people interested in sustainable design and building should be interested in it.

Getting your project certified as a Living Building is tough. So far, only three buildings have achieved it, with three others that are getting close.

It means, among other things, you’re after net-zero energy, water and waste. Your project has to generate at least as much energy as it uses. It must use no water that doesn’t originate on site. And no waste must be sent off site. Net-zero multiplied by three.

It’s an innovator’s dream — and a builder’s challenge. But it is in meeting challenges like living buildings that the construction industry’s future lies.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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