Population growth, climate change, urbanization and resource scarcity are driving major transformations in the building and infrastructure sectors. It is estimated that by 2030, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in mega-cities. At the same time, we are using natural resources 1.5 times faster than the world can replenish itself.

Meanwhile, environmental legislation is increasing. In the EU, 2020 targets of a 20-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions versus 1990 levels have been set and are being implemented through binding legislation. Furthermore, voluntary green building certifications such as LEED, BREEAM, GRIHA, DGNB and others are helping to increase the acceptance, use and development of new technologies designed to help meet these new green standards.

However, it is important to recognize that these changes are manifesting themselves differently across the world. In Europe, where 50-60 percent of houses in use today were built before 1970, there is a big requirement to improve the energy consumption of existing housing stock. Therefore, the process of retrofitting to upgrade and improve resource efficiency is becoming increasingly important. When coupled with the need to preserve the historic appearance of the building, the situation is often quite different to that of the developing world.

By contrast, it is estimated that by 2030, 50 percent of the new construction in the world will be in China. Crucial to China’s ability to meet its own carbon and energy reduction targets will, therefore, be the implementation of high building standards in the country. There is also an urgent need to develop low-cost, decent housing in China (and many other emerging economies). This is driving the use of new building techniques and processes such as modular homes. This new and highly efficient process involves pieces of a house being manufactured in a factory, and then assembled on site.

As developers grapple with these trends and new techniques, they are increasingly looking to their suppliers to help them meet the challenge. At AkzoNobel, we have witnessed some important changes happening. In the darker, colder parts of the world, buildings are increasingly being designed to maximize natural light in a bid to reduce energy lighting bills (and to satisfy consumer taste). To address this trend we have created a product called Light & Space, which reflects more light than conventional coating systems. Light & Space (Dulux and Nordsjö brands) are interior paints produced with LumiTec technology. By reducing the amount of light that the painted surfaces absorb, the energy savings for lighting of the room can be up to 20%. This paint’s unique light-reflecting qualities also make interiors appear lighter, larger and more spacious.

In a similar way we’ve also been working on solar reflective coatings for use in warmer climates. These are exterior paints that reflect away the infrared part of the solar spectrum so that the building doesn’t heat up so much, and therefore reduces air conditioning costs. These solutions are a good example of how we are striving to develop new technologies that bring sustainable benefits to customers forming part of our Planet Possible approach to sustainability.

We have also seen an increased interest in indoor air quality. Currently, paint manufacturers are focused on reducing VOCs in their coatings, but looking further forward, perhaps we might see a future where coatings could actively extract impurities from the air and help to keep the indoor air quality at a high level. Looking even further forward we may even be able to produce outside coating materials that contribute to the removal of pollutants from the street level. In this way buildings could actually be used to help clean the environment.

At AkzoNobel we are also aware of some low-level signals to do with the way people interact with their homes that could have important impacts on the way buildings are designed. We are already reaching a stage where people are starting to control aspects of the functionality of their homes (such as heating) through their smart phones. Moving forward, we might see a future in which people interact with their homes by gesture rather than through a device. This will necessitate the wall of a house becoming a kind of device, responsive to the hand movements of the occupant. 

 Of course the further into the future you look, the riskier this type of thinking becomes. What is clear is that major changes are occurring within the building sector. So whether you are a cement provider, a renewable energy supplier, a glazing company or a coatings company, there are great opportunities to play a key role within this transformation.