Building Sustainable Cities


19 July 2013


Building Sustainable Cities


BY 2050, the Harvard Business Review estimates that the number of people living in cities will have nearly doubled, from 3.6 billion in 2011 to more than 6 billion.


But the world’s urban areas are already overcrowded and suffer from problems, including the high cost of housing, created by rampant urbanisation.


Nonetheless, these challenges present the private sector with new opportunities to strategise and stretch resources to shape sustainable and economically competitive cities of the future.


And construction materials manufacturer Lafarge Malaysia Bhd is keen to tap the opportunities available in developing sustainable cities.


Lafarge Malaysia, which built its first cement plant here in 1953 in Rawang, has been an active participant in the development of Malaysia over the past 60 years. Its involvement includes iconic developments such as the Petronas Twin Towers and Putrajaya.


But more than just bringing development, Lafarge Malaysia chief executive officer and president Bradley Mulroney says that there is a need to develop urban areas in a sustainable manner that helps society.


It is estimated that Malaysia will hit a population of 35 million by 2020 and 70% of the population is expected to be concentrated in urban areas.


“We have contributed enormously to the construction industry over the last 60 years and now we want to play a key role in ensuring that Malaysia develops in a responsible way,” Mulroney said.


In line with the global group’s sustainability ambition, Lafarge Malaysia is extending its “building better cities” theme here.


Lafarge has embarked on a drive to provide materials, services and innovative building systems to build better cities in countries where it operate to ensure urban areas are developed, but remain affordable and are sustainable.


“The challenge is, how we can make these cities more compact, durable and pleasurable to live in, but at the same time make them affordable and sustainable.


“For us at Lafarge, we are looking at how we can prolong the use of minerals from our quarries and maximise its value by incorporating the use of recyclable materials into our products without compromising on our quality,” he said.


The group continuously innovates to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of its products as part of its role in providing affordable and sustainable materials for the construction industry. It also ensures that its approach promote a better respect for the environment.


For example, in Malaysia, pulverised fuel ash, a waste product from coal-fired powerstations, is used in the production of its cement, and palm kernel shells are used as a substitute for coal to power its plants, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. Following efforts to increase the usage of blended cement and alternative raw materials, Lafarge Malaysia successfully reduced its CO2 emissions by one million tonnes last year.


The local arm will also be setting up a lab in Petaling Jaya to look into the development of better concrete mixes and integrated construction systems that will help developers incorporate sustainable materials and processes into buildings.


Fortunately for Lafarge Malaysia, the company is able to leverage the expertise and research facilities of the global group. Lafarge allocates more than‚ 100mil (RM418.90mil) for R&D every year.


The lab in Malaysia will also work on localising the research findings from its parent lab in France in order to be a total solutions provider for the construction industry here.


Lafarge Malaysia is also working with relevant government bodies to draw up better solutions to provide affordable housing in the city without sacrificing on quality. This, Mulroney added, can be accomplished by improving the efficiency of construction and lowering the cost of buildings. Mulroney acknowledges that Lafarge has yet to come up with all the answers in providing the best integrated solutions for the industry.


“We have to experiment and work with different bodies from different parts of the industry to come up with the best systems and solutions. We are engaging architects and engineers in the industry, but we have to engage a broader spectrum of parties.


“It is about bringing together all the relevant bodies to figure out what can and should be done and how construction solutions can meet the needs of the society,” he said.


He expects some tangible results from the company’s ongoing research by the end of the year.


According to Mulroney, 15% of a building’s carbon footprint is produced during the construction stage while the remaining 85% comes from the usage of the building


“Hence, we are responsible for the carbon footprint of our activities and we do a lot to mitigate this 15%,” he said, adding that the integrated solution for the industry should also address the efficient use of resources during the life of the building.


The drive for sustainability is not without rewards. Lafarge said its ambition to contribute to building better cities will be supported by innovation, which it projects will add an additional‚ 450mil to its earnings in its 2012-2015 plan.


“We are poised to move forward with the next phase of developing Malaysia into a high-income and high-technology nation. I like the challenge we have now. The contribution we can make is huge if we do it right and we are working very closely with local developers to build homes for people,” Mulroney said.