An assessment of public procurement of timber buildings : a multi-level perspective of change dynamics within the Swedish construction sector

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Forest Products

Abstract: The construction and use of buildings in the EU accounts for half of the EU’s extracted materials and energy consumptions, and a third of greenhouse gas emissions. In the past decade, the construction sector has responded to such concerns by focusing on post production energy efficiency. However, new findings indicate that upstream construction processes influence emissions significantly – necessitating a shift in focus to include material choices and building processes. Nonetheless, despite environmental concerns, such a shift to more sustainable and innovative building methods has been slow to get underway within Sweden. To address environmental demands and low innovation rate, the construction sector requires deep structural change. To understand the dynamics of these deep structural changes, this thesis assesses the Swedish construction sector using a novel heuristic socio-technical theory, the multi-level perspective (MLP). This theory assesses a sector from multiple dimensions and moves beyond technological fixes or behavior changes, incorporating the key elements of change including policy, industry structure, markets, culture and science. Within an MLP framework, the focal innovation is timber based multi-story timber building approaches: in Sweden, such multi-storey timber building methods can be considered an innovative and sustainable construction technique. Moreover, publically owned facility management organizations were the focal actors and procurement actors are expected to play a key role in the transition towards the reduction of GHG. Accordingly, this thesis uses a socio-technical framework, investigating a transition from onsite concrete building methods to timber based building. That is, this thesis introduces MLP analytical framework to assess change in the Swedish construction section with focus on timber building. The study draws on multiple methods and a case study framework. Secondary data was used to assess the national construction sector and a mix of semi-structured interviews and secondary data for studying three cases; the municipalities of Växjö, Skellefteå and Falun. The overall aim was to assess how timber based building can become more mainstream. Using MLP, national multi-level interactions between macro changes and the mainstream practices have been illustrated and assessed. Moreover, three local timber building cases have been investigated in depth, illustrating how public actors developed timber building at the local scale. In the studied cases, public actors have developed timber building markets by articulating visions and expectation in order to attract and guide niche producers of timber solutions. Examples of such articulation processes include formulation and implementing timber building strategies and articulation of functional needs in public procurement processes. Public actors within the studied cases also build social networks, involving local industry, research institutions, and public actors. Moreover, all three municipalities participate actively in formal national timber networks. The local cases also illustrate valuable lessons learned regarding on multiple dimensions such as technology, organization, market demand, policy, and infrastructure requirements. Examples of local lessons illustrated in this thesis are local SME developments and thereby increased competition, innovative public procurement practices, and organizational changes in the public administrations. The study shows that MLP is a useful framework for investigating deep structural changes within the multi-storey construction sector. It highlights barriers, drivers and pathways of a deep structural transition towards more environmentally sustainable timber based building.

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