To build the Canada we want, the Canada we need, for 2050, there needs to be a new approach taken to the integration of innovative tools, practices and technologies in infrastructure.
Canada has often been hesitant about the implementation of new technologies. A risk-averse approach, one that shies away from unpredictable elements of a project, have prevented us from being early adopters. The water-wastewater industry is an example of this, as many Canadian innovators are forced to prove their technologies in foreign markets before gaining traction in the domestic market. But this can even be the case for more proven solutions, as those risk-averse attitudes drown out attempts to new ideas.
Part of the cause of this is our approach to procurement. The low-bid methodology often slams the door shut on innovative solutions, as many carry higher upfront costs with a return on the investment in the short-, medium- or long-term. Since low bid only focuses on the cost of construction, and not the cost of operation or maintenance, the inherent value of the innovation cannot be realized.
This is why it is so important to move away from the low-bid system of procurement. The system does not capture the long-term ramification of the investment that is made. It doesn’t account for triple bottom line impacts. It doesn’t account for asset management.
From our National Infrastructure Assessment response:
“By providing room for innovation in the procurement process in asset construction and rehabilitation, which can be evaluated using the triple bottom line approach, there is a stronger opportunity to address the challenges ahead in the plans for 2050, including:
- Low-carbon building materials – Materials that are produced, transported or constructed using few carbon emissions, or materials that have higher embodied carbon through the material’s life cycle.
- Modular construction – Creating a design that allows modular construction significantly reduces the amount of building materials wasted during construction.
- Stormwater management – The introduction of on-site stormwater collection, green infrastructure, and innovated building envelope design can reduce the impacts of extreme wet weather events and reduce overall property damage.
- Green infrastructure – The installation of green infrastructure provides significant benefits, from heating and cooling considerations to the removal of food deserts. Green roofs, living walls, bioswales, rain gardens and more can add significant health and wellness benefits, and help to reduce the impact of weather events.
- Onsite renewable energy – Early design considerations can allow for the building envelope to be evaluated for renewable energy opportunities, including: solar, geothermal, district heating, battery storage and low-temperature heating/cooling systems.
- Smart sensor technology – Sensor technology can be used to improve leak detection in underground water infrastructure, improve the flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, regulate heat/cooling in buildings, detect disease in wastewater streams and more. These added costs must be considered before any prescriptive procurement measures are put in place.
- Recycled materials – Emphasize the reuse of materials from the current site (if it is already developed) or from other sites. This reduces the carbon footprint, reduces demand on landfills and promotes the circular economy.
- Alternative forms of procurement – Combined with accelerated construction methodologies, solutions can be brought to market more rapidly.
- Flexibility in design of space – With the pending arrival of automated cars will as many floors of parking be required? Will office be needed to the same degree with telecommuting? Designing buildings to have more flexibility in repurposing spaces such as making garage levels full height allow for more adaptive reuse of buildings in the future.
Building these elements into the pre-design phase of project procurement ensures that engineers and contractors can provide the best possible solutions for addressing environmental considerations. In doing so, we improve the asset’s resilience, increase the asset’s flexibility, and potentially extend the expected life of the asset because environmental risk has been accounted for in the project’s overall design.”
By introducing a new system for project procurement, we can build and rehabilitate infrastructure in a way that equally values the social, environment, and economic impact of an asset over its entire life cycle.
The WSP Canada team can help your operation introduce innovative solutions for your next asset construction or rehabilitation project. To learn more about how we can help, visit our Services page.
Note: This article is the third in a series highlighting key themes discussed in WSP in Canada’s response to the federal government’s National Infrastructure Assessment.
Article #1: Whole Life Cycle Assessment