The Irish construction sector is recovering after the crisis, with investments growing since 2013. With this positive dynamic, the question arises whether the revival is in line with the national and EU objectives on sustainability? In other words, while the sector’s economic growth matters, the quality of such a growth is of equal importance. This article presents what is the government’s plan to achieve the national policy goals in terms of eco-innovation and climate change targets.
The Irish construction sector has experienced a revival over the past 6 years. The European Construction Sector Observatory (ECSO) highlighted in its Country Fact Sheet report that the investment in construction increased by 52.6% and the production of buildings registered a 58.6% increase between 2010 and 2017. Over the same period, the broad construction sector is estimated to have employed more than 190,000 persons, a 23.3% increase compared to 2012. This revival of the sector is expected to continue over the coming years.
However, the country ranks as an average Eco-Innovation performer with a score below the EU-28 average, as highlighted in the ECSO Analytical Report on Energy and Resource Efficiency in the construction sector. Irish construction industry, nevertheless, seems to have a strong interest in these topics, with high interest shown for the Smart and Green Building Expo in Dublin this March.
From the public perspective, the national government launched in 2014 the Construction 2020 Strategy to stimulate eco-innovation activity and improve energy efficiency in the sector. The Strategy includes 75 action points to ensure the sustainable development of the sector. To support the implementation of the strategy, the government initiated a series of programmes to enhance the use of resources and environmental impacts of buildings. Five years later, what are the results of these programmes and how has the sector evolved so far?
Current status of the national Strategy Construction 2020
Through the Construction 2020 Strategy, the government pledged to develop a public sector pilot called the Market-Led Clustering Programme, to stimulate collaboration between Ireland-based construction firms, other relevant industry actors and the research community. In addition, the project also endeavours to encompass activities that apply research to pilot production as, for example, smart infrastructures or smart homes.
This strategy highlighted the importance of technological advancements, developments in quality materials, the rising use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and sophisticated manufacturing facilities. It also contributed to the increase of the productivity gains on construction projects, which experienced a rise of 59% between 2010 and 2017 and which are forecast to create around 50,000 jobs in the sector before 2020.
In turn, this helped improve the sector’s international competitiveness and contribute to the achievement of national policy goals – particularly in terms of climate change targets. This showed that building better could also open up new market opportunities, whether at the domestic or international levels.
What did the national programmes on sustainability bring to the construction sector?
In addition to the cluster initiative, Ireland’s government set up several programmes that aim to reduce energy usage and emissions in the residential building sector. For example, the Better Energy Programme includes government schemes providing grants to households for the energy efficient upgrade of their homes, or the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) project, which provides a tax credit on expenses for repair and renovation works.
With these initiatives, the government aimed to encourage the eco-renovation of the existing housing stock rather than creating new construction. According to the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), more than 105,000 home improvement projects have been carried out via this program between 2014 and 2018. The government spent more than €16,000 on each of these projects.
Overall, Ireland performs above the EU average for many dimensions of construction-related innovation and in line with EU average on eco-innovation and the digitalisation. Recent policy developments suggest efforts to modernise the construction industry and to align it with the EU objectives on sustainability.