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Study delves into shortcomings and opportunities for innovation

Peter Caulfield
Study delves into shortcomings and opportunities for innovation

The construction sector in North America has a terrible record of investing in research and development (R&D). In Canada, construction ranks at the bottom of all industries as measured by their R&D expenditures. That’s one of the findings that’s being reported in the first draft of Green Building in Canada: Assessing the Economic Impacts and Opportunities, which is being prepared by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).

"The lack of innovation has meant that productivity levels have suffered," said Akua Schatz, the council’s director of advocacy and development. The amount of R&D invested in construction has not risen since 2001. Not only does construction lag behind other sectors in Canada, but, when compared to other countries, Canada ranks low."

In the United Kingdom, according to the report, the construction industry has rallied around innovation and developed its Construction 2025 Strategy and related action plan for improving performance in the industry at a national level. In Canada, one of the biggest practitioners of innovative construction practices is the green building industry.

According to the study, in 2014 it was estimated that it employed 346,000 direct full-time workers and generated about $27.35 billion.

Schatz said Canada is a leader in such areas as research in cement and innovative uses of wood. On the other hand, one of the aspects of innovation where the Canadian construction industry needs to pull up its socks is training. Research in 2012 by the B.C. Institute of Technology identified about 20 learning outcomes related to green building that were missing from the training curricula of most construction trades in Canada. For some trades, such as plumbing and electrician, the number of missing learning outcomes were more than 50.

Schatz said the final draft of the report will be published in November 2015.

"A condensed version will be available free on the Canadian Green Building Council’s website," she said.

The CaGBC study is being led by Paul Shorthouse of the Delphi Group with Helen Goodland of Brantwood working as a technical advisor

Work on the study began in spring 2015.

Another study on innovation in construction is underway closer to home. The Construction Innovation Project, which is co-funded by the B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) and the Homeowner Protection Office, is developing a definition of innovation for construction and a strategy and action plan to help companies benefit from innovative thinking.

The project has ambitious goals. They include helping BCCA members to improve productivity and profitability by adopting time-saving measures, such as off-site construction, integrated project delivery and digital technologies such as GIS and BIM, and delivering high-performance, low-carbon buildings on time, cost effectively and within acceptable risk tolerance.

Project leader, Helen Goodland, said the study’s report will be published at the end of December 2015. The Delphi Group research team are also supporting Goodland on the project.

"The final report will come in pieces," she said. "There will be a summary, a series of six technical bulletins with a list of key innovations and a full document."

Work on the study began in October 2014 when the BCCA’s former Sustainability Advisory Committee was rebranded as the Innovation Committee.

"The original committee focused on the ‘what’ of innovation, whereas the new committee looks at the ‘how’," Goodland said. "There’s a greater acceptance of green building in the construction industry today. What we need to do now is to focus our efforts on finding out what the best innovations are and how to get them adopted by the industry."

The study team has just completed its primary research, an online survey which netted 350 replies.

"Of those, 60 per cent were general contractors and 40 to 50 per cent were small businesses," she said. "In addition, we did 15 in-depth interviews with industry thought leaders and we are in the process of doing focus groups around the province."

Innovation in construction has different meanings to different people. For the  purposes of the BCCA study, it is being defined as the successful introduction of new ideas and processes, such as BIM, prefabrication, lean construction and new types of procurement, such as integrated project delivery.

"There are different types of innovation in construction," Goodland said.

"There’s everyday, on-site innovation, of the type that’s familiar in all types of artisanal work, and the more scientific R&D that takes place in industry."

In doing the research for the study, Goodland and the BCCA team discovered that, contrary to the expectations of some people, the B.C. construction industry is very open to change and innovation.

"The industry realizes it needs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the construction process," she said. "Clients are expecting more now, and contractors need to give them what they want."

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