CIQS - Construction Economist Publication

Article written by Angela Lai - Summer 2016

Sustainability remains a current topic and specifically for the construction industry, which is a strong contributor to unsustainable practices. Unfortunately, construction is here to stay, being a major contributor to BCs’ economic growth.

In BC, the construction sector constitutes 7% of our GDP and provides one in ten jobs, and has been one of the province’s fastest-growing sectors in the last ten years. Besides retail and commercial development, there is also the continued housing demand fueled by foreign investment and migration. Government fully understands that importance of the construction sector in our economy, and supports it with ongoing infrastructure work, most notably the Evergreen Line in Coquitlam, seismic upgrades of schools and new construction of government facilities.

However, an undeniable often forgotten fact of the industry is that, construction is responsible for the extensive use of energy and resulting carbon emissions in the construction phase, as well as in the operational and maintenance phases. There is also embodied carbon in the production of building materials and components – through raw material extraction, transport, manufacture, and assembly. 
Angela Lai, FRICS, PQS, LEED AP O+M is a Partner with Core Two, a property and construction cost consultancy locally based in Vancouver, BC and is on the instructing team for Passive House Canada. Angela has over 17 years’ experience in the construction and development industry spanning South Africa, the UK and Canada. Angela's experience is diverse; she has worked as a cost manager, loan monitor and a management consultant, and she has specialist expertise in sustainability, life cycle and FM costing. She is the current past President of CIQS-BC, past Director for the CIQS National Board and Vice Chair of RICS-BC. In addition, Angela teaches part-time at BCIT and is the instructor for the newly launched QS in Americas Foundation course.

Article can be found at:

"There is a direct link between sustainability and the services that quantity surveyors can offer."
In the private sector, clients do want to be ‘green’ but often do not know what this actually means. Also, the key issue is that there is conflict between capital cost and the whole life cycle cost benefit. Designers will drive sustainable design, however, at the end of the day, there has to be an economic benefit to being ‘green’ and clients often want to see this in the initial capital costs. So, the question is how, as quantity surveyors, can we contribute to the sustainability debate? Simply, we have to be able to support and advise the client on the economic benefits of being sustainable because lower costs and a return on investment is what it will take to convince them. Our ‘green’ costing advice can include the following:

  1. Advising on the feasibility of renewable technologies such as photovoltaic panels through life cycle costing and payback analysis.
  2. Life cycle option costing – providing discounted cash-flow analysis for different material choices and/or equipment.
  3. Advising on the incremental cost increases for incorporating sustainable options.
  4. Advising on the cost of LEED credits and supporting clients in optimizing LEED credits for the lowest cos.t
  5. Providing the client with an embodied carbon assessment of their building based on our cost plans/estimates.
  6. Incorporating life cycle costs of components into the value engineering process.
  7. Sustainable procurement – we can support clients in preparing tender documents for contractors which will place focus on their environmental performance in terms of on-site, in-house and supply chain requirements as well as their consideration of airtightness of buildings and elimination of thermal bridging.

We can also offer our client added value in being able to advise on available financial incentives for incorporating sustainability such the BC Power Smart Program for New Construction, and the Fortis BC rebates for efficient boilers and lighting design. In conclusion, there is a direct link between sustainability and the services that quantity surveyors can offer due to clients only likely being swayed (other than a true concern for our environment) by us proving that having a ‘green’ building’ works commercially and saves them money.
The construction sector accounted for 10 per cent of B.C.’s energy demand and 11.4 per cent of the province’s total Carbon Dioxide (C02) emissions in 2009, according to a 2011 report commissioned by the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation and Canadian Construction Association.

Furthermore, it has been reported by Environment Canada that an estimated 21 per cent of waste in landfills in Canada comes from construction, renovation and demolition. Methane emission from landfills is approximately 30 times more potent than CO2, creating even more damage to our environment.

The commonly accepted definition given by the World Commission on Sustainable Development in the 1997 Bruntland report defines Sustainable Development as ‘The ability to meet our own needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. At the current rate, it is questionable whether this is even possible - we are at the tipping point where we need to be doing more in the construction environment.
Vancouver looks to be leading BC by having implemented a 2020 Action Plan to be the Greenest City by 2020. Specific to Green Buildings, the Vancouver 2020 Action Plan has two targets – to require all buildings constructed from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral in operations and secondly, to reduce energy use and GHG emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels. BC has also mandated that municipal building facilities over 500m2 seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. However, it appears that there is a move away from LEED with requests for proposals from government often not specifying the need for LEED accreditation, but requiring instead that the design follow LEED principles, which is not formally assessed.