Interview with D.K. Sen: “Sustainability has emerged as a central concern in the construction sector”

D.K. Sen, Ecom Member & Adviser to CEO & MD for Development Projects, L&T

Rapid infrastructure development is bringing about a paradigm shift in the construction industry. Contemporary construction techniques are giving way to mechanisation and digital solutions. The thrust on sustainability is driving the use of eco-friendly and renewable energy sources. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, D.K. Sen, Ecom Member & Adviser to CEO & MD for Development Projects, L&T, talks about the evolution of the construction sector, the key challenges and emerging trends…

How has the construction industry evolved over the past few years?

The construction industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, driven by several key factors that have reshaped the sector’s dynamics. The industry has seen a noticeable trend towards larger and more substantial contracts. Major projects involving significant infrastructural developments, such as highways, airports and urban infrastructure, have become increasingly prevalent. This shift towards larger contracts reflects the growing ambition to address India’s infrastructural needs on a grand scale.

Government spending on infrastructure development has also experienced a substantial uptick. This financial commitment is not only aimed at improving connectivity but also at stimulating economic growth and job creation. The National Infrastructure Pipeline, with an expected outlay of Rs 150 trillion, along with the National Logistics Policy and the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan, is facilitating these objectives.

Over the years, PPP projects, while promising, have presented challenges. Issues related to risk-sharing, regulatory uncertainties, and balancing pub­lic interests with private sector objectives have necessitated careful navigation. Balancing the benefits of private sect­or efficiency with public accountability remains a nua­nced endeavour. Con­sequen­t­ly, interest in PPPs has tapered.

The industry has embraced mechanisation and digital solutions to enhance efficiency and project outcomes. Mechanised construction techniques, advan­ced machinery and automation have revolutionised the construction process. Digitalisation tools such as building information modelling (BIM), drones for site surveys, and data analytics are fostering innovation in project planning, design and monitoring. Addi­tionally, sustainability has emerged as a central concern. The sector has embraced eco-friendly practices such as energy-efficient desig­ns, is adopting sustainable materials and pursuing LEED certification. The em­phasis on worker safety has also intensified, leading to the implementation of stricter safety protocols and the utilisation of wearable technology for accident prevention and monitoring.

This transformation in India’s construction industry highlights a commitment to addressing the na­tion’s developmental needs while also adopting contemporary practices to overcome long-standing cha­llen­ges. The trend towards larger projects and inc­re­ased government investment showcases a concerted effort to build a robust infrastructure that can support economic growth and improve the quality of life. Finally, the integration of mechanisation and digital advances, a growing emphasis on sustainability and improved safety measures are shaping a more efficient, environmentally conscious and resilient construction landscape.

“The construction industry is experiencing a transformative shift towards techniques, practices and materials that prioritise environmental stewardship and resource efficiency.”

What are the biggest challenges that the in­dus­try faces today?

The construction industry is currently confronted with several major challenges. For instance, the sector is grappling with a shortage of skill­ed labour. The ageing workforce, combined wi­th a lack of interest among younger genera­tio­ns to pursue careers in construction, has resul­ted in difficulties in recruiting qualified workers. The fluctuations in material prices and disruptions in the supply chain are also causing construction costs to rise. These uncertainties make it challenging for project planners and contractors to accurately estimate and manage expenses. Complex construction projects frequently encounter delays due to unforeseen challenges such as design modifications, regulatory obstacles or other unforeseen factors. These delays often lead to budget overruns and strained relationships among project stakeholders. While technology holds immense potential, the industry encounters obstacles in embracing digital transformation. Concerns about data security and worker training are among the hurdles that hinder a smooth transition to digital processes.

How are technology and digital solutions tra­ns­forming project design and execution?

The construction industry is undergoing a significant transformation through the integration of technology and digital solutions, revolutionising both project design and execution. A noteworthy development is BIM, which has emerged as a pivotal tool, generating digital replicas of structures and infrastructure. This enables stakeholders to visualise and coordinate more effectively during the design and execution stages. Digital twins, mirroring physical structures or systems, enable the continuous monitoring and analysis of real-world performance. This facilitates predictive maintenance and optimisation of operational efficiency.

The utilisation of data analytics and specialised software streamlines the construction project management process. These tools im­prove scheduling, resource allocation, risk ass­es­s­ment, and cost control. Drones are also gai­n­ing traction for diverse construction tasks such as surveying, inspections, and even delivery, contributing to quicker and more accurate data collection. These geospatial tools are also widely used nowadays in the estimation and reconciliation of bulk materials. Methods such as 3D printing and modular construction are on the rise due to their potential to reduce construction timelines, enhance qu­ality control and minimise waste. The integ­ra­tion of IoT  in­volves embedding sensors and connected de­vices into construction sites and buildings. This enables real-time monitoring of equipment performance, worker safety and building systems. Additionally, cloud-based tools foster sea­mless collaboration among dispersed project teams. Virtual reality and augmented reality tech­no­­logies provide immersive experiences that aid in visualising and simulating infrastructure projects. They are used for virtual site visits, sa­fety training and design validation. These technologies help identify potential challenges and make real-time adjustments.

These technological strides are fundamentally reshaping the construction landscape.

With the growing emphasis on sustainable de­ve­lopment, what are the new techniques, pra­c­tices and materials being used?

As the emphasis on sustainable development grows, the construction industry is experiencing a transformative shift towards techniques, practices and materials that prioritise environmental stewardship and resource efficiency. Some pioneering approaches include the adoption of sustainable construction practices, which is being catalysed by certifications such as LEED and Building Re­search Establishment Environ­mental Assess­ment Method. These certifications spotlight energy efficiency, water conservation, in­door air quality and judicious materials selection.

The construction sector is integrating de­sign principles focused on minimising energy consumption. Strategies encompass optimi­sing building orientation, utilising high-performance insulation, fostering natural ventilation and maximising daylight penetration to curtail the demand for artificial lighting and heating/ co­oling systems. Buildings are also inc­rea­sin­gly being engineered to incorporate solar pa­nels, harnessing on-site power generation.

The utilisation of sustainable and low-im­pact materials, including recycled content and repurposed resources, is reducing the en­vi­ronmental impact of construction endeavou­rs. Cool roofs, which reflect sunlight and mitiga­te heat absorption, help alleviate the urban he­at island effect. Meanwhile, green roofs, ador­ned with vegetation, confer insulation benefits and absorb rainwater, helping to mitigate stor­m­wa­ter runoff. Moreover, the installation of low-flow faucets, toilets and similar water-efficient fixtures conserves water within buildings.

Greywater and rainwater harvesting syste­ms designed to capture and treat greywater (em­anating from sinks and showers) and rainwater are being harnessed for non-potable applications such as irrigation and toilet flushing. Cons­truction waste management strategies are also being employed to minimise landfill waste by emphasising material recycling, reuse, and component salvaging. Moreover, architects and engineers are leveraging building performance simulation sof­tware to model and analyse the environmental consequences of design decisi­ons, en­compassing factors such as energy consumption and daylight utilisation.

What are the key trends that will shape the sector going forward?

The construction sector is poised to be influenced by several pivotal trends that will steer its trajectory in the coming years. Some noteworthy trends are digital transformation and technology integration, as these will redefine how projects are designed, managed and executed, optimising efficiency and precision. In­novations such as off-site and modular construction, along with 3D printing, will expedite project timelines, enhance quality control and reduce waste. The construction sector will increasingly prioritise resilient designs capable of withstanding disasters, safeguarding infrastructure and communities against various challenges. A heightened emphasis on sustainability and net-zero targets will propel the adoption of green materials, low-impact solutions, re­newable energy integration and electrification strategies.

Going forward, construction practices will continue to evolve with a renewed focus on ensuring the health, safety and well-being of workers and occupants alike. Evolving regulations and building codes will shape constructi­on practices, ensuring compliance with emerging standards and requirements. The sector will also actively address the shortage of skill­ed labour by investing in workforce development, training and upskilling initiatives.

These trends collectively anticipate a dyna­mic future for the construction industry, marked by innovation, sustainability, enhanced safety and a commitment to shaping built environmen­ts that align with evolving societal needs.