Going green could be saving advantage for construction

Going green could be saving advantage for construction

Sustainability is associated with higher costs, more labor, and more hassle, but as the construction sector struggles with severe worker shortages, going green could be a saving grace.

The St Lukes Health headquarters in Tasmania has been positioned as one of the most sustainable offices in the country due to the use of engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber and glued laminated timber, or glulam.

Martin Rees, St Lukes Health director of strategy Martin Rees believes that these products are worth it because they cost more than conventional materials, such as concrete.

He said it's definitely a more expensive way to construct at the moment, but the offset is that you can construct more quickly.

When you're going to do a fit-out, you leave exposed timber, so you're not putting ceilings and other coverings over the top of the concrete, and that's a saving. The 28 metre-tall St Lukes Health headquarters will rise from the brick base of a 19th century building in Launceston.

The engineered wood products provide structural strength by combining layers of timber with industrial glues.

He said that they allowed builders to construct about a floor a week after they were out of the ground. It's a bit like a Meccano set.

It's constructed inside out, where you don't need scaffolding. He hoped that the project would serve as a proof-of concept for others wanting to embrace sustainable materials.

Master Builders Tasmania chief executive Matthew Pollock said the sector was willing to look at anything to reduce labour, especially given the tough competition for workers from a booming mining sector.

He said that the skills shortage in construction has been an issue for a number of years and has been worse through the COVID years.

In Tassie, we estimate that in order to achieve the pipeline of work ahead, 30,000 new homes and a little over $20 billion in infrastructure are needed to grow the construction workforce by 25 per cent by the year 2025. Pollock said there was strong interest in decarbonising the construction process, but adoption of sustainable materials was hampered by limited supplies.

Australia already has to import construction timber, and the country is well behind the more advanced engineered timber industries of Europe.

It's an industry in its infancy in Australia, but it's a fantastic product, said Pollock.

One of the silver linings of COVID is that businesses are looking for local producers and local supply chains that are not exposed to the types of international disruption we've seen over the last couple of years. Designers and developers who want to decarbonise their projects often have to navigate a tangle of emerging materials, each with their own environmental attributes.

Adrian Taylor, a sustainability coordinator at the BVN, said it was not possible to swap a carbon-heavy product like concrete for timber.

They don't work the same, he said.

They have different structural qualities, very different costs in terms of time and money, and they have different constraints in terms of what you can do with them. Some materials took a lot of time because they required different certifications, which was why Taylor said they required a lot of effort.

He said initiatives like Architects Declare were helping the industry pool research and resources to ease the burden of embracing sustainable construction.

According to Taylor, there is a kind of industry that works by creative IP intellectual property people hold cards close to their chest.