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The ‘Sixth Wave of Innovation’ – Innovations in Sustainability and Resource Management to Rule the Roost!

waves of innovation

History educates us that technological and social changes has resulted in the creation of five main waves of innovation. The first wave of innovation to arise from technological and social changes was the Industrial Revolution; the second, the Age of Steam; the third, the Age of Electricity; the fourth, the Age of Mass Production; and the fifth, the rise of Information and Communications Technology and Networks (Moody & Nogrady, 2010).

Each of these waves have lasted for a period of around 40–60 years (Moody & Nogrady, 2010) before giving way to a new wave of innovation on the back of rising inequalities formed between countries and societies.Presently, as per numerous studies and available data, it is well-established that we are witnessing the decline of the fifth wave of innovation.

The end of the fifth-wave of innovation

The fifth wave of innovation is characterized by the rise of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Networks. ICT has had a tremendous impact on our day-to-day activities and equally so in the design and construction of infrastructure. In a broad context, ICT has brought a comprehensive improvement to the construction processes like expenditure, time, quality and client satisfaction by incorporating technology and communication to the construction procedure. The areas of application for ICT in construction are predesign, design, construction, operation and maintenance.

Based on success stories of ICT implementation – developing countries have begun to adopt ICT into their systems. However, a majority of the construction industry in developing countries primarily comprises of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that lack coordination and collaboration between multiple project members – a prime requisite for the successful implementation of ICT.

In India, through aid from policy change, the adoption of ICT is on the rise. For instance, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is planning to implement National Urban and Innovation Stack (NUIS) which will support several key programs including the India Urban Data Exchange (IUDE), India Urban Connect (IUC), Smart Procure, Research and Innovation for Urban India, National Urban Learning Platform, SmartCode and Smart Governance.Simultaneously, the Government of India has also recognized the need for training and capacity enhancement of city commissioners and other stake holders and pilot projects including prototype training modules have been initiated across multiple States to this end.

While developing countries are now actively engaging in the adoption of ICT through policy changes, elsewhere in the world, the debate has moved on incorporating sustainability through resource management as a competitive factor. This is due to problems linked to the depletion of natural resources, pollution, traffic jams, nuclear risk, supply risk, energy and water shortages, sanitation, poverty, and disasters (Markard, Raven, & Truffer, 2012). Governments and companies are actively looking at linking sustainability to organizational objectives and going beyond “mere” sustainable discourse in order to generate economic, social and environmental benefits that lead to the creation of competitive advantage and potential innovation(Barbieri et al., 2010).

The development of new technology is one of the ways of addressing overcrowding in cities, pollution, traffic jams, an aging population and other social needs, and this can also lead to business opportunities. Thus, innovation has a leading role to play in this process, as it is innovation that enables the development of solutions for such problems (Han et al., 2012).

Historically speaking, all previous waves emerged and stagnated because of new social and technological needs, which determined other paths, which could only be achieved through new reconfiguration (Desha and Hargroves, 2011, Moody and Nogrady, 2010, Seebode et al., 2012.). History shows that these changes are necessary and that several market signs portend the arrival of a new wave (Utterback, 1996).

The sixth wave of innovation

Moody predicts this sixth wave of innovation to be defined by sustainability and resource efficiency due to problems linked to the depletion of natural resources, pollution, traffic jams, nuclear risk, supply risk, energy and water shortages, sanitation, poverty, and disasters. Reports of market movement further substantiate this by highlighting the shift in consumer consumption.

The shift in consumer consumption is driven by inequalities formed between countries and societies as previous waves ran their course, leading society to question not only its current needs but also what it expects for the future (Moody & Nogrady, 2010).

Faced with this scenario – of the convergence of social needs and competitive advantage – government, society and businesses should coordinate and combine their efforts (Hart and Dowell, 2010, Kleindorfer et al., 2005, Seebode et al., 2012.) to drive various types of innovation and to develop competitive advantages through technologies that are linked to sustainability (Kleindorfer et al., 2005).

Fortunately, India is precariously positioned to effectively ‘leap frog’ the 5th wave of innovation through the adoption of 6th wave technologies i.e ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Resources Management’ technologies. This has been possible due to the fortunate exposure of global best practices & trends in green buildings through the formation of IGBC and GRIAH. Through these and more efforts, S Raghupathy Deputy Director General, CII & in-Charge IGBC says “India has emerged as one of the top five countries in the world in terms of largest registered green building footprint.”

Green Building Councils (GBCs) from across the world have currently certified 28.52 billion sq.ft. of floor space. Moreover, last year, 376 buildings have been certified as net zero by GBCs from across the world. According to estimates, this sector is set for substantial increase and the global net-zero energy buildings (NZEBs) market is projected to reach USD 78.79 billion by 2025.

The emergence of such assertions, increasing sanctioning of funds for R&D in related segments of Sustainability and the gradual emergence of new technologies indicate a shift in the mode of operation from a ‘harvesting resources that are plentiful and cheap’ to a ‘managing resources that are scarce and valuable.’ In a resource constrained world, that is going to facing increasing demands and pressures on limited resources, it would stand to reason – a paradigm shift in operating models that aim to conserve resource is indeed the need of the hour!



A Stich in Time Saves Nine

73 percent of the humans on the plant agree that investing in infrastructure is vital to their country’s future economic growth (Mace Insights, 2019). It is predicted that in 10 years’ time a total amount of $5.25tn will be spent on infrastructure development, globally. In a world confronted with resource shortage issues amongst others, it is more critical than ever now to think about how the built environment can provide a lifestyle that is affordable, sustainable, healthy, peaceful and happy, for as many people as possible.

Urbanization or the movement of people towards development, technology and social hubs – is a manifestation of the human psyche’s desire for an affordable, sustainable, healthy, peaceful and happy lifestyle. Further assertions of the same can be drawn from the worldwide drive for economic growth and development – which has led to an increase in the infrastructure demands of both developing and developed nations, with the gap between the global demand and supply of infrastructure growing by around US$1 trillion annually. As such, meeting this demand in a sustainable manner will be key to the success of global development initiatives such as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and India’s ‘National Urban and Innovation Stack (NUIS) scheme’.This is mainly due to the long life-span of most infrastructure assets, which have the potential to “lock-in” unsustainable economic, social and environmental impacts for both our own and future generations. To this end, it is vital that the international community grasps the current infrastructure gap as an opportunity to build sustainable infrastructure that supports global development goals.

Economic Opportunities in Sustainable Construction

There is a huge market for Certified Green Buildings in high growth markets like China, India and Brazil, besides the US that continues to remain a big market for the sector. It is estimated that the market size for Certified Green Buildings in India will increase to $30-$50 billion by 2022, essentially doubling to 10 billion sq.ft. (ANAROCK, 2018). As of September 2017 more than 4,300 projects with about 4.7 billion sq. ft of built-up area had registered for green technologywhich is only about 5 per cent of the total buildings in India, and hence there is a huge potential for further penetration of green building technology.

An analysis by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)shows that – in the case of greencertified buildings’ – energy and water consumption canbe reduced by 50% if the buildings are minimum GRIHA 3Star/ IGBC Gold rated. This implies that once mandated across the various States in India, 50% morebuildings can be added to the same water and energy supply networks withminimum raise ininfrastructure costs. No substantial capacity addition in water, electricity and the supply of other such amenities will be needed. In a resource constrained society, this is an equitable solution considering the rate of urbanisation and demand for infrastructure as well as user’sdesire for an affordable, sustainable, healthy, peaceful and happy lifestyles.

The benefits of green and sustainable infrastructure is catching on, especially in India which now boasts of the second largest green footprint behind only the US. Over the last year, there has been rising number of homebuyers showing interest in buying not just homes, but green homes in India. An industry study show about 10% of home buyers are now checking if the project offers green homes and has any certification to support the claim. In India the certifying agencies are IGBC and GRIHA.

6th Wave Materials and Technologies for the Construction Industry

A green construction material is defined as a building material that needs to meet the following criterion: it must employ the use of clean production technology; no or less use of natural resources and energy; a large amount of use of industrial, agricultural, or municipal solid waste production with the features of free-pollution, recyclability, environmental protection, and human health. By this definition, below are some of the more recent materials and technologies for the construction industry.

Waste Management

Recycling of Construction and Demolition waste (C&DW)is an important step towards the sustainability of the construction sector. Experts on the 6th wave of Innovation believe this to be the biggest area for economic growth during this phase. Presently, C&D waste ends up in landfills occupying and rendering redundant much needed space.

Unbound stone, crushed concrete, and crushed bricks are the three main constituents of C&DW [14]. Within these three categories, concrete waste and ceramic materials are the most abundant components and their use as aggregates in the manufacture of concretes/mortars has been addressed in several studies, most of them regarding recycled brick aggregates (RBAs) and recycled concrete aggregates (RCAs). Best practices in India and from around the World indicates that 80 – 90 % of C&DW can be reused after processing in a variety of applications including landscaping, earth works and civil engineering applications. Despite this, C&DW recycling in India has not picked up. The construction boom in India is further leading to the generation of enormous quantities of C&D waste and this trend is likely to further increase in the decades ahead. A 2015 survey of 10 cities across India also reinforces the conclusion that C&D waste in India is increasing substantially.

* Daily generation has been multiplied by 300 to calculate annual generation since CDW generation is not constant throughout the year, almost disappearing during the monsoon rainy season

It is therefore necessary to solve the problem of C&DW recycling as soon as possible and to develop new green building materials. Apart from repurposing C&DW into landscaping, earth works and civil engineering applications, research is being conducted on newer materials that can address the issue of C&DW. One such material is Desert Sand.

Desert Sand – A team of scientists in the UK have developed a biodegradable construction material made from desert sand. Called Finite, the material boasts to be as strong as concrete but with half the carbon footprint. According to the research team, in the near future, Finite could be used for permanent structures such as residential projects.

Recycled Waste Construction Materials

In the case of conventional construction materials, in the process of building construction or building demolition, much waste of bricks, wood, and concrete is often produced. If these traditional building materials could be used again effectively, we can effectively reduce the construction site garbage and reduce the pollution of the environment. The below table (see table 2) highlights the utilization ratios of recyclable materials for repurposing.

* Material A: The surplus earth and stone of construction, industrial sludge, reservoir sludge, harmless inorganic waste, such as waste ceramics, waste glass, furnace powder, fly ash, stone waste, and so on.

Table caption: Utilization ratio of recycled green construction materials (Sustainability 2018, 10, 3331 pg. 9 of 21)

Natural Fibers for Concrete Reinforcement

The use of mineral admixtures such as grinding slag, fly ash, silica fume, and recycled aggregates is increasing as efforts to decrease the impact of concrete production on the environment increases. As a result, presently, there are many investigations and studies on plant fibers being used as cement reinforcement materials for application in building walls across the world [10]. Below are some of the research that is going on in this area:

  • Brazilian curauáfiber was made into strain-hardening cementitious composites that promote distributed microcracking and strain-hardening behavior [10].
  • The satisfactory performance of piassava fibers with good mechanical properties proved their potential use in WPC (Wood plastic composite) [9].
  • Water-retted kenaf fibers were used as reinforcement in mortar composites [12].

Studies indicate that by evenly adding plant fibers to the concrete the development of micro-cracks is reduced. During the application of an external force, the plant fiber and the matrix work together to improve the tensile strength, bending strength, and fatigue strength of the concrete [16]. Some of the challenges this technique faces is the corrosion problem of plant fibers in a cement alkaline environment, expansion and contraction of the fibres when wet and dry and the problem of uniform distribution of fibres in concrete. Although there are still some problems in plant fiber concrete, plant fiber concrete has been applied to some projects and achieved good results. It can be popularized and applied in a wide range of fields. Plant fiber as a reinforced concrete substrate has broad prospects [16].

Apart from materials, energy conservation is another major area of focus in terms of 6th wave technologies and innovations. Some of the more recent advances in this sector are listed below.



Energy Saving Technologies


Solar power has been increasingly exploited as a sustainable construction technology over the past few years. As such, research in the field has been continually increasing as developers and manufacturers seek ways to increase efficiency while reducing size – a similar conundrum as faced by hardware developers prior to the 5th wave of innovation.

Recent advances in research of solar PV systems include ‘Light-Sensitive Nanoparticles’ and a new material called ‘Gallium Arsenide’. Researchers believe Gallium Arsenide could make solar PV systems nearly three times more efficient than existing products on the market.

Researchers are also actively looking at ways to effectively deploy solar PV systems. Some of the areas that have shown promising results include solar roadways, floating solar fields, solar tiles and space based solar. Space based solar involves satellites capturing sunlight and convert it into microwave energy that is then beamed back to earth. According to reports, India, China and Japan are exploring investing in this technology.

Green Thermal Insulation

Addressing energy loss due to thermal conductivity is amongst the greatest concerns in terms of increasing a buildings energy ratings. Increasingly, recycled materials are being used as lining materials for walls as well as for reinforcement in the concrete to reduce thermal conductivity while reducing the carbon footprint of the structure. Some of the natural insulating materials that are being researched for this purpose due to their potential for sustainability include locally available fiber, agricultural waste composites [13] and photochromic glass.

Cool roofs

Cool roofs are sustainable green design technologies which aim at reflecting heat and sunlight away. It aids in keeping homes and buildings at the standard room temperatures by lowering heat absorption and thermal emittance. The design makes use of reflective paints and special tiles which absorb less heat and reflect away most of the solar radiation. For instance, cool roofs can reduce temperatures by more the 50 degree Celsius during summer. Cool roofs therefore minimize the dependence on air conditioning and in turn, reduce energy use which translates into decreased cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.


Societal demands are increasingly revolving around built environment that can provide a lifestyle that is affordable, sustainable, healthy, peaceful and happy to as many people as possible. This increasing demand will increasingly become the focus areas of companies and solution providers. Already, emerging technologies and the direction of research funding indicate a shift in priorities for companies from‘resource procurement’ to ‘resource management’. The development and wide spread utilisation of these technologies will mark the beginning of the 6th wave of innovation and will truly transform the way humanity conceives built infrastructure.


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