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Construction Corner: Report sheds light on shaping the future of construction

Korky Koroluk
Construction Corner: Report sheds light on shaping the future of construction
Korky Koroluk

It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the World Economic Forum.

It began as the European Management Forum founded by Klaus Schwab, a Swiss academic and engineer in 1971. Its focus was on meetings to consider how European firms could catch up with U.S. management practices.

From the outset, Schwab promoted the "stakeholder" management approach, which calls on managers at all levels to take account all interests, not just shareholders, clients and customers, but employees and the communities within which they operate, including government.

Schwab’s approach was unique in a time when companies focused on profits and only profits. But the annual meetings were popular and it wasn’t long before the forum had a membership of what Schwab called "the 1,000 leading companies of the world."

To reflect that wide membership, the forum changed its name to the World Economic Forum in 1987.

Schwab views the evolution of his organization as a journey and the phase it’s now embarking on is as the global platform for public-private co-operation.

As one might expect, the forum published a lot of papers on a lot of topics. But it was hampered somewhat by a website design that made things difficult to find.

That’s been fixed. On a recent visit, I found a paper called Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology.

Many, perhaps most, people in construction are totally engrossed in their present project and looking ahead to the next one. Few have time to pause and consider the industry as a whole. This paper gives them a chance to do just that.

The paper reminds us that the engineering and construction industry strongly affects the economy, the environment and society as a whole. It touches everyone because the quality of life is heavily influenced by the built environment.

The industry accounts for six per cent of global gross domestic product. It’s the largest global consumer of raw materials and constructed objects account for between 25 and 40 per cent of global carbon emissions.

There are several megatrends that are shaping the future of construction. The paper points out that 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to buildings. It also reminds us that the population of the world’s urban areas is increasing by 200,000 people per day, and they all need affordable housing, as well as the whole range of social, transportation and utility infrastructure.

Such trends, the paper notes, pose challenges. They also offer opportunities. Either way, they require an adequate response from the industry as a whole.

In the face of this, the industry has been slow to adopt new technologies or methods. Indeed, it notes that in the United States over the last 40 years, labour productivity in the construction industry has actually fallen.

Given this background and the sheer size of the industry the paper says that even a small improvement would provide "substantial" benefits for society.

The paper then presents readers with an "industry transformation network" listing 30 measures supported by many best practices and case studies of innovative approaches.

Some of the measures, it says, can be adopted by private companies on their own. Others require collaboration with peers or with other companies. Some can be adopted by government, acting both as the regulator and as the major owner of infrastructure projects.

Developments in the digital space like Building Information Modeling (BIM) is key, both as an enabler of and facilitator for many other technologies, including 3-D printing.

There’s more in this paper’s 60 pages. But don’t expect it to be a quick read. It’s a thought-provoking document, offering a global view of the industry and the ways in which it could be better.

It’s a free download from the World Economic Forum’s website. You’ll find it at

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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