No. 97: Industrialized Construction

Industrialized construction hit a wall in the 1970s but inspired efforts in Japan and Sweden. Could we revive the practice to address housing availability? Plus, the Bureau of Land Management tackles a history of conflict with environmental groups to reduce wildfire risk.

No. 97: Industrialized Construction
Photo by Sven Mieke / Unsplash

A few issues ago, I talked about transitioning people living on the streets into temporary housing to help them get on their feet again. But that's just an initial step – how do we solve the long-term issue of housing affordability?

Unsurprisingly, there's a supply and demand issue at play: if you produce more housing, the cost should go down. Other countries have industrialized construction with positive results, but you might be surprised to hear that they were inspired in part by our own Department of Housing and Urban Development – well, the HUD from 50 years ago at least. More on that project below as we kick off this week's news and jobs bonanza.

~ Greg

What we're reading

Industrialized construction is nothing new, but it has really caught on in countries like Sweden and Japan. (NYT)

  • Back when HUD was brand new, it developed a program called Operation Breakthrough that was designed to increase housing supply to drive down costs. They built 3,000 homes in factories and deployed them around the country, but Congress stripped funding 10 years later.
  • It inspired other countries, however. Most of Japan's construction is industrialized today, and nearly half of Sweden's construction is as well.
    • A quick aside – this seems like something Japan would excel at given their history with factory operations and the Toyota Production System. They, in turn, have inspired a revolution in continuous improvement worldwide.
  • Naturally, this faces challenges in the U.S., with regulations being a key focus. Our building codes are not structured to support industrialized construction and would require updates to reflect a new way of building.
    • We'd have to overcome consumer tastes as well, though I've seen plenty of prefab companies that are a far cry from the prefab construction of yesteryear. Take a look at Plant Prefab, one of the weekly job opportunities, for an example.
  • I think this is worth the experiment again. We don't need to build dream homes – we need to build a lot of homes.

The Bureau of Land Management is conducting outreach with environmental groups to balance forest management needs with climate concerns. (NYT)

  • A lot of Western land is managed by the B.L.M., and part of their job is to reduce wildfire risk and support ecosystem development. Sometimes that means cutting down trees, and not just the dead ones.
  • If they have to cut the trees down, they might as well do something with them, right? Historically, that has meant salvaging timber to make money. The government has approved clear cuts in the past, increasing distrust among environmental groups.
    • Essentially, the concern is a conflict of interest – how can you simultaneously protect forests and profit from them?
  • Personally, this may simply require a dose of transparency to overcome. If you can see where the profits go, then it's easy to ensure it's being used for the right purpose. I quite like the idea of a circular forest management process, where forest management pays for itself through its actions.
    • Imagine if this was a nonprofit – sustainable income to support the mission would be the dream, right?

Job of the week

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, you know that real estate is one of the heavy hitters – all the more reason to dive into the data to see where we can improve.

One of the companies on the front line is Measurabl, an ESG accounting platform for commercial real estate. They're hiring for a bunch of senior-level roles, including a Director of Marketing Performance and Operations who will have their hands in everything from website maintenance and marketing automation to data visualization and lead gen. If you like a variety of work, this is the one – and it comes with some top-notch benefits to boot.

Community roundup

  • We've been building up to this, but it's finally here: the EPA and Department of Transportation released new standards to limit tailpipe emissions and improve fuel economy. The standards require automakers to reach an average of 65 miles per gallon by 2031, which is a 33% increase over the current standard. (NYT)
  • The University of Washington ran a clinical trial recently with a new device that helps restore function to paralyzed limbs, and it is expected to be approved by the FDA this year. (Axios)
  • Baltimore released a 10-year solid waste management plan that relies on a major incinerator, and local environmental groups have responded by filing a civil rights complaint with the EPA. (Inside Climate News)
    • You might be thinking what does waste management have to do with civil rights? Historically, these types of services impact disadvantaged communities due to the amount of air pollution they release, and the resulting health issues can be significant.
  • Firearm suicides currently outpace firearm homicides in the U.S. and have been rising over the past number of years. The argument here is that more focus should be placed on deaths of despair in the U.S. as gun deaths rise. (Axios)

Hot job opportunities

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Resource of the week

It's that summer vacation season again, and for this week's resource, I wanted to find some travel companies putting in the extra effort to make it less impactful on the environment.

So I turned to Travel + Leisure, which hands out its Global Vision Awards each year to companies that are pushing the envelope with regards to sustainable travel. You will see some familiar faces like Paka and LifeStraw, but they also have suggestions for food, lodging, and transportation. I'm particularly drawn to Populus, a new carbon-positive hotel in Denver that looks like a mix between a birch tree forest and the Flatiron Building in New York City.

Test your knowledge

Which state is leading the renewable energy race? That depends on how you evaluate them, and last week I asked you to identify the state that gets the highest percentage of its energy from renewable sources. South Dakota, it turns out – at least based on recent data from Yale. The main driver appears to be wind energy, which certainly makes sense given the location. Whoosh!

We're now less than six months away from COP 29, the big climate change conference associated with the United Nations. Each COP is hosted by a different country each year, and given the political stakes involved, it's no surprise that simply selecting a host invites commentary.

What country is hosting COP 29 in November this year?

Here's a hint: I'll be copying and pasting the country name so I don't misspell it next week.

Email me your guess, and I'll send one lucky winner a couple of One Work stickers!

I am getting back from a trip to Oklahoma City, where they are proposing the tallest skyscraper in the United States. You can find me on LinkedIn and Threads.

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Jamie Larson