Did you know that the construction sector in India emits about 22 per cent of the total annual emission of CO2 resulting from the Indian economy? As a result, when it comes to construction, long-term sustainability ought to be a priority.

The Union Budget of 2022 made it evident that the Indian government is paying close attention to climate challenges, at a time like this switching to sustainable means of construction could be one of the fastest ways of reaching the net-zero carbon emissions goal.

Traditional civil engineering materials like concrete, steel, timber, clay, or gravel, in their structural forms, contribute greatly to the embodied carbon of any construction project, and one organisation – Maccaferri, is making this possible and leading the way forward towards a sustainable future.

Research has shown that avoiding or minimizing the use of these materials and replacing it with an alternative – a comparable geosynthetic material can significantly help reduce the embodiment of carbon in the same projects. Another way to do this is by utilisation of resources that are available locally. This is not only cost-effective but would have a much smaller environmental footprint.

Established in 1879 and headquartered in Bologna (Italy), Officine Maccaferri S.p.A is an innovation leader in the field of civil engineering for the past 140 years. With significant experience in handling complex civil engineering problems, Maccaferri has performed outstandingly with its prime focus on ‘engineering a better solution’. 

In India, Maccaferri was incorporated in 1998 as Maccaferri Environmental Solutions Pvt Ltd, a completely owned subsidiary of Officine Maccaferri. It has worked on more than 1200 projects throughout the country alongside setting up plants in Ranjangaon (Maharashtra), Shirur (Maharashtra), and Una (Himachal Pradesh).

To learn more about Maccaferri’s initiatives and how they could help reduce carbon footprint in the Northeastern region of India, which is witnessing a rapid transformation in infrastructure, EastMojo spoke with Vikramjiet Roy, Managing Director, Maccaferri India.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

The post-covid scenario has seen an increased push on Infrastructure development in India. How important is it to consider sustainability and what will be its effect on project cost?

Roy: Engineering, construction, and building materials all play critical roles in the post-pandemic rebuilding of our communities and economy. With the Government’s stress on the time-bound completion of the projects related to roads, highways, water, airways and power generation, and called for building the required infrastructure right up to the border areas, establishing connectivity and communication links to cross-border points to promote trade and economic exchanges. Given that infrastructure such as roads, trains, metros, and so on are critical to improving business productivity and operations, a strong but sustainable infrastructure is required. A boost to the sector directly boosts GDP growth by roughly 3-4 percent, owing to the multiplier impact of infrastructure investment.

Now, in order to meet the infrastructure demands of an ever-growing population while also limiting the environmental effect of growth, India must swiftly shift toward sustainable infrastructure development. Sustainability is a wide concept that encompasses many distinctive features. An all-around sustainable project considers environmental sensitivity, local ecology and economics, cultural sustenance, future possibilities, and financial feasibility all at the same time.

The solution to this issue may be found in the projects’ long-term economic cost-benefit analysis. Life cycle analysis of materials is becoming a global norm. It is recommended to start looking at life cycle costs rather than initial costs and consider the end-of-life fate of any product. It is highly recommended to include concepts of responsible sourcing of raw materials; have environmental product labels for materials; give preference to suppliers who follow green practices; follow lean construction practices. In certain circumstances, the initial capital expenses for sustainable initiatives may be greater but considering the socio-economic advantages of these initiatives, the larger capital expenditure is justified.

Construction practices throughout the country are more or less the same. What new infrastructure solution can Maccaferri provide to NE India?

Roy: Hilly regions are more vulnerable to natural disasters causing landslides, debris falls, and other rockfall events, and becoming critical for infrastructure such as roads, railways, urban infrastructure etc. Maccaferri provides innovative solutions with technical expertise to deliver versatile, cost-effective, and environmentally sound solutions, critical in preventing/mitigating such accidents in the future. The terrain in the Northeast has fragile geology which is considerably different from other parts of the Himalayas. Maccaferri solutions are flexible suiting fragile geology and customized as per local conditions.

The government is giving special attention to infrastructure development projects, such as rail and road connectivity through PM DevINE scheme. What do you think would be the approximate amount of carbon footprint added to say in the construction of roads? What can be done to reduce this and to what extent?

Roy: With the Government of India’s focus to ensure rapid infrastructural development in North-East India, The PM-DevINE scheme in the spirit of PM GatiShakti, would support infrastructural and social development initiatives based on North-East requirements. 

In infrastructural developments, typical civil engineering materials such as concrete, steel, lumber, clay, or gravel contribute significantly to the embodied carbon of every building project. By eliminating or decreasing the use of these materials and replacing them with a comparable geosynthetic material, these projects’ inherent embodied carbon will be reduced. When compared to conventional structures, the use of mechanically woven Double Twisted wire mesh solutions and Rip-Rap, particularly Reno Mattresses and Gabions filled with locally accessible stones, can result in reducing CO2 emissions savings of up to 70%.

The construction sector in India emits about 22% of the total annual emission of CO2. As a result, when it comes to construction, long-term sustainability should be a primary priority and reducing the carbon footprint may be the fastest method of reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Solutions should be developed with the intent of improving the quality of life while also preserving the environment. Construction authorities should set a focus on a sustainable development framework that includes the re-use of site-won resources also re-vegetated, and integrated into the natural environment. Geosynthetic materials in infrastructure development enable the use of local material with low overall transportation costs, eventually reducing the carbon footprints.  

How challenging is the terrain when it comes to infrastructure development in the northeast? Which areas is your company presently working to provide a solution for? 

Roy: The mountains in the Northeast have a mix of soil and soil boulders which makes it unique and challenging. Northeast India is prone to natural calamities like landslides, rockfall, the sinking of the slope, debris flow, riverbank erosion etc. Due to difficult terrain and limited operational season, the pace of developing rail-road infrastructure in the region gets impacted. The steep terrains of the Northeast region make infra construction expensive too. The Central Government has taken several steps to improve the North Eastern area holistically in order to improve basic infrastructure and provide connectivity in the region. In the Northeastern region Maccaferri is working for landslide mitigation in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, rockfall protection in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, erosion control in Manipur, avalanche mitigation, use of local material for road and railway construction in the Tripura region. 

Could you share any recent case study from Northeast India where you have successfully been able to provide sustainable solutions? 

Roy: Maccaferri is working closely with the Government of Arunachal Pradesh for landslide stabilization on a pilot basis and till now restored challenging sites using ready assembled units reducing considerable construction time.

For instance, the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) was building a new railway line linking the Garo Hills in Meghalaya with Assam. To restrict excavation, the rock slopes were cut severely, posing the risk of rock-fall and compromising the safety of trains, track, and passengers. On these cut slopes, a secure drapery system was necessary. As components of secured drapery, Maccaferri delivered unique flexible wire meshes such as High Energy Absorption (HEA) Panel and Steelgrid MO, which permits easy and rapid installation on this tough terrain, as well as Self Drilling Anchors (SDA) as surface anchors. The system was chosen over other available meshes due to the requirements of high tensile strength and stiffness. The project was completed successfully in a short time of around 8 months while adhering to the specified quality and safety criteria.

This part of India is also prone to earthquakes, and construction activities in past have resulted in great losses. How can such damage caused due to construction be avoided?

Roy: The area is prone to earthquakes on account of fragile geological, topographic and hydrological conditions. High rainfall, earthquake and poor geology results in natural disasters. Our focus is to perform construction activities with the least disturbance on hillsides and create infrastructure requirements on the valley side. This shall avoid creating manmade landslides, rockfall, debris flow etc. It is important to consider slope protection and possible natural hazard protection during project conceptualization. The budget allocation for infrastructure projects on hilly terrains should not be based on the same parameters as that of the projects in the plain terrains of the country. A dedicated amount in the budget towards natural hazard mitigation must be considered at the planning stage itself. The four-lane highway in Shimla and on the Char Dham route are both facing the consequences of not considering mitigation in the initial project planning.

With the push to infrastructure in the region, what potential does the sector hold for employment generation?

Roy: Investment in infrastructure gives rise to employment opportunities in the region. A development like the building of roads, expressways, railway tracks, airport etc will create avenues for local employment. It is well acknowledged that infrastructure expenditures may result in direct and indirect employment creation, as well as spillover effects into other economic possibilities. Infrastructure projects coming up in the Northeast will push the dependence on local resource utilisation, in return providing economic possibilities to the larger set.

Projects are undertaken by Maccaferri to ensure the generation of minimal waste and local resource utilisation and reuse of site won materials. Installation of geosynthetics and double twisted wire mesh solutions do not require especially skilled resources which further promotes local employment. 

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