Mr Ronald Denom, president of the SNC-Lavalin Group, which is one of the leading groups of engineering and construction companies in the world, shares his perspectives on building low-carbon cities.
Part I Part II

Part I

Host: Welcome to China Daily Webchat. I'm your host Cai Muyuan. Today we are talking with Mr Ronald Denom, president of the SNC-Lavalin Group, which is one of the leading groups of engineering and construction companies in the world. Today, Mr Denom will share his perspectives on building low-carbon cities. Welcome, Mr Denom.

Denom: Thank you, Angela. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Host: The SNC-Lavalin Group celebrated its 100th anniversary of establishment earlier this month. While addressing the ceremony, Pierre Duhaime, the president, said the company is especially proud of the fact that sustainable development has been an integral part of the company's culture from the very beginning. So how does the company implement the idea of sustainable development?

Denom: Well, I guess, in a way, Pierre was saying is that we were reciting poems before we knew it was called poetry. The term "sustainable development" really comes out of the late 1980s when what was formally economic studies and social-economic studies got drawn together by a commission who called it sustainable development. And at the time, they were saying this is developing projects in a way that not only executes the project today but takes into account the needs of future generations to be able to also take care of their needs. At that time people understood the jist of the message, but it's really hard to measure, very hard to quantify. What we've been doing ever since is trying to quantify, trying to give ourselves a consistent way to measure sustainable development, in terms of the economics of the project, in terms of the benefit of the regional or national economy, in terms of environmental impact, and in terms of the benefits to the people that are involved, the communities involves who has to live around the project because our company does very large projects – mines, refineries and mass transform systems – that do have or can have substantial impact for the people living in the surrounding area.

Host: As the concept "low carbon" is introduced, the Chinese government has laid out plans for low-carbon urban development. And some pilot programs have begun construction in several cities. How do you define a "low-carbon city"?

Denom: Well low-carbon city is part of sustainable development. Of course it relates to climate change, and the effects of CO2 and equivalent type of gases on warming of the climate. When one looks around the world at sources of carbon, the world's big cities are main sources of carbon. We have so many cars and buses. So the approach is really to – it's quite simple. You have to look around your city, doing inventory of where the carbon comes from; do a consultation process with the population to look at how we can begin reducing what we called "carbon footprint"; then you develop a series of measures to begin overtime, slowly reducing the amount of carbon that is being emitted to the city, emitted from heating and from vehicle traffic. For example, one common measure is to restrict the numbers of vehicles in the city and replace them with buses or metro systems that emit a lot less carbon. And recycling programs, where instead of sending material to landfills where it deteriorates to methane gas, which is very bad for the environment, gives a very high carbon equivalent effect, you recycle it or you treat the waste other ways locally to prevent or reduce the so-called carbon footprints. These are all parts of the low-carbon city program, and it's a very important way of reducing the impact of cities and citizens on the environment. Host: Many real estate developers in China are now designing low-carbon buildings. In your opinion, what is a low-carbon building, and are there any criteria that have been applied worldwide in this field?

Denom: Once again, low-carbon is part of a larger program. In building construction in the US, there is something called ‘Leads' which has to do with leading energy and environmental protection, which is a set of standards on how to choose your site and what material to use to build your building with, how to reduce the amount of heat and air conditioning you need to maintain comfort in the building, what you do with your waste water so that you have an optimum or a building that has much lower environmental impact. It takes, on one hand, less resources to build because it uses lots of recycle materials, and the performance of the building has less carbon emissions. Also in different ways, it is simply better for the environment. You have to recognize that we are in a period of economic growth, and the real challenge is to do more – to get the same output with less input. Obviously we can't go on and on just consuming more and more resources. Our eco systems and economic system will collapse eventually, so we do have to find the so-called sustainable solutions that allow us to maintain the increase of our lifestyle and the lifestyle of our children, without destroying our eco systems.

Host: Since you have worked around the world on engineering and construction projects of all types, can you give us some examples of low-carbon construction practices that your company has worked on with Chinese companies?

Denom: In construction, what you are looking to do is reduce the amount of waste you generate during construction and the amount of energy you consume during construction. The strategies for these are often building more in factories which are more energy efficient. Therefore there is less fuel burnt to generate the power that is necessary to fabricate all the machines, equipments or structural steel that you need to put up a building. These are all strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Of course there are things you do when you have to remove the top soil and trees and so on. Do not just leave them out to rot, and do not burn them because in that way you just put more pollution, carbon and CO2 into the air. Find other ways to dispose them which are more eco friendly. There are much more working together with the communities, we've done-large nickel mines with several Chinese construction companies. We made a lot of effort to involve local communities in the project. When you do a large project, they're risky and sometimes the easiest way to control your risk is just to bring in large contractors and push everybody aside and build the project. In the case of this project, we deliberately made small packages they were intended to be executed by the people living near the plants. So these are things like safety vests, fencing and security. We spent over $100 million in the local community helping them participating in the economic benefit. This is not low-carbon, but it's part of sustainable construction and sustainable development and part of the way that projects have to be done today that not only worry about the profits of the owner but also worry about communities that live around this place.

Host: Are there any of this kind of examples of this type of constructions in China that your company has worked together with Chinese companies?

Denom: The constructions that we did in China are mostly in hydroelectric sector. It is kind of mixed blessing, because on one hand you are generating renewable energy, which is very good for the environment. However, in order to generate hydropower, you often have to flood part of the country. You have to make a dam or a lake behind the dam, this often results in displacement of local people and hardship associated with that. So as I said, it's a mixed blessing that has to be managed very carefully like working with the communities to explain to them what has to happen and helping them relocate and re-establish their lives properly is important to us. It's part of the values and beliefs that we bring to the projects that we do. And we try to transfer this to every contractor that we work with, not only Chinese contractors.

Part I Part II

Quotable Quotes
Ronald Denom
Low-carbon city is hundreds, it's thousands of little actions that added up all together end up producing carbon.

Jorge Mora
But what is the main challenge? It's not about what your government wants. It's not about if it's possible or not. It is about what you Chinese citizens really want.

Deborah A. McCarthy
Our challenge is to come up with a global norm. That will enable us to all be on the same line or sheet of music.

Chen Guangbiao
Now we have forest police, why shouldn't we establish an environment police?

Zheng Guoguang
The country wants to develop nuclear power. The safety questions, atmospheric environment evaluation questions and, possibly, emergency response questions must be taken into consideration.

Liu Zhengdong
Aluminum is, in the short term, an industry of high-energy consumption. But in the long term, it is a high energy-carrying industry.

Liu Tongbo
I think Beijing should also develop more bicycle lines. This is a good way to improve the traffic and the air quality.

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