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Journal of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering

On-line version ISSN 2309-8775
Print version ISSN 1021-2019

J. S. Afr. Inst. Civ. Eng. vol.63 n.4 Midrand Dec. 2021 



Understanding the barriers and drivers of sustainable construction adoption and implementation in South Africa: A quantitative study using the Theoretical Domains Framework and CQM-B model



R J Marsh; A C Brent; I H De Kock





The construction industry is one of the largest consumers of natural resources. Improving the sustainability of construction industry activities is therefore key to mitigating the negative impact of the industry on the environment. Given the extent of the environmental challenges faced by many countries, the transition towards the adoption of sustainable alternatives in the construction industry must include dimensions of changing human behaviour. These dimensions include influencing the capability, opportunity, and motivation to adopt the desired change in behaviour. In order to improve the adoption and implementation of sustainable practices within the construction industry, the behaviour change processes of stakeholders need to be considered. This study describes how the Capability, Opportunity, Motivation-Behaviour (COM-B) model and Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) were used to identify the barriers to and drivers of sustainable construction practices by construction industry stakeholders. The study included a structured questionnaire survey completed by 108 construction industry stakeholders and indicated a need to improve the capability, opportunity, and motivation amongst construction industry stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of sustainable construction practices. The questionnaire identified that an increase in the awareness, knowledge, interest, and demand for sustainable construction will facilitate the adoption thereof. Additionally, providing training and access to education on best practices for sustainability can positively influence the behaviour of stakeholders and improve their confidence in implementing sustainable construction practices. Economic factors such as the cost of implementing sustainable solutions and the perception of the economic and social benefits of sustainable construction were identified as the critical barriers. These barriers and drivers are mapped to five TDF domains (knowledge, skills, social influences, beliefs about capabilities, and beliefs about consequences), which can be targeted for behaviour change amongst construction industry stakeholders in future interventions.

Keywords: sustainable construction, barriers, drivers, behaviour change, quantitative, South Africa




Over the past few decades, international and local governments have recognised that the construction industry is a key role-player in the adoption and implementation of sustainable development. The construction industry, which includes the entire life cycle of a building project, from pre-feasibility to decommissioning and disposal, has a significant impact on the environment, economy and society (Kibert 2007). Since the initial development of the sustainability agenda in the late 1980s, the principle of sustainable development aims to simultaneously pursue environmental, economic, and social dimensions of development. However, various authors argue that sustainable development can be interpreted and pursued within a specific context, and therefore the objectives and development solutions vary (Amui et al 2017; Bebbington 2001; Du Plessis et al 2002; Elliot 2006; Hjorth & Bagheri 2006).

The construction industry has a unique position to create value by improving the quality of life of society and thereby positively contributing to sustainable development. Although the conventional approach to the built environment is driven by cost, quality and performance criteria, sustainable design and construction aims to additionally minimise resource depletion, minimise environmental degradation and create a healthy built environment (Kibert 2016). Sustainable construction (SC), although lacking a general definition and therefore lacking a universal approach (Ahn et al 2013; Du Plessis et al 2002; Ofori 2015), has been highlighted in documents such as the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Construction published by the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB). The purpose of this document was to provide guidance for all national agendas on a global scale to implement SC research and development strategies to overcome issues and challenges of sustainable development within the construction industry (Du Plessis et al 2002). Responses to the SC agenda have, however, varied amongst the different contexts of countries.

Although SC has been studied by authors in both developed and developing countries who recognise the need to develop and implement SC agendas (Ahn et al 2013; AlSanad 2015; Brennan & Cotgrave 2014; Chan et al 2017a; Darko et al 2017a; Häkkinen & Belloni 2011; Ismail et al 2012; Marchman & Clarke 2011; Saleh & Alalouch 2015), only a few researchers (Aigbavboa et al 2017; Du Plessis 2007) have conducted studies which extend the concept of SC to South Africa. In 2002, Du Plessis prepared a discussion document named the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Construction in Developing Countries (A21 SCDC), which sought to present a sector-and-developing-country response to the challenge of sustainable development. It also aimed to highlight the implications of sustainability in the built environment in a regional context and to suggest the principles and strategy for action for the developing world in partnership with the developed world. The objectives of this agenda aimed to provide a framework that could be used to guide research and development (R&D) in developing countries and to promote the exchange of learning of SC within the developing world. Du Plessis (2007) argues that developing countries will become the platform for infrastructure and industrial development, and therefore the construction sector in these countries has a critical role to play in responding to the sustainable agenda.

Although numerous strategies were further developed, as stated by Dalal-Clayton and Bass (2012), there has been very little impact of such strategies as a result of lack of integration between frameworks and key decision-makers, limited links between policies and practical applications, a narrow base of participation from multiple stakeholders, and many strategies lacking clear and concise priorities and achievable targets (Du Plessis 2007). Another study conducted by Sebake (2008), emphasised the challenges faced by professionals in the implementation of sustainability principles during the development of building projects. The study recognised that any strategies related to sustainable building projects must be dealt with at the initial stages of a project and must include both architects and the rest of the professional team (such as engineers and contractors). In doing so, the client's brief can be formulated and developed by taking advantage of all the participants' competencies and prerequisites, thereby ensuring a sustainable build and minimising silo design and development and clashes later in the project. The thematic analysis employed by Windapo (2014) found that green building is at an early stage of development in South Africa, and that rising energy costs and the Green Building Council of South Africa's (GBCSA) Green Star rating system were the primary drivers of green building. Windapo (2014) noted that these drivers have not changed since 2006, nearly a decade since the publication of the article, and highlighted that the drivers of green building were mainly financial and not necessarily to protect the environment. Evidence of this is substantiated by the case studies, which suggest that competitive advantage and corporate image were key drivers to achieving Green Star status. Therefore, the author concludes that without the economic benefit that green buildings provide to clients and developers, and with a lack of government regulations to support green building construction, a limited number of clients and developers would drive green building projects forward for the sole purpose of environmental sustainability. An empirical study done by Aigbavboa et al (2017) on the "lazy view" of construction professionals in the South African construction industry suggests that the following reasons were the key challenges facing the construction industry in a bid to achieve sustainable construction: additional cost of building sustainable buildings, a limited understanding of the benefits of sustainable construction, and lastly, the lack of mobilisation of sustainable construction resources to support technological changes in the industry.

Although there has been a shift towards adopting a green approach towards buildings since the establishment of the Green Building Council of South Africa in 2007, professional stakeholders in the built environment have been reluctant to pursue greening of buildings in their design and construction methodologies. In a study conducted by Coetzee and Brent (2015) it was found that the perception amongst key stakeholders in the built environment was that the additional costs associated with the design of sustainable buildings are too high. The results of the study, however, indicated that the perceived cost of sustainable design and construction was more than double what the actual cost was. This highlights one of the barriers towards effectively adopting and implementing SC. In addition to this, the lack of regulations and policies which govern SC in many developing countries has made it less likely for stakeholders in the industry to adopt SC practices (Aghimien et al 2018; Djokoto et al 2014; Foong et al 2017; Suliman & Omran 2009). Although there are regulations and frameworks available in South Africa, such as the Green Economy Accord, National Greening Framework and the Green Building Council, the latter which certifies green buildings, Simpeh and Smallwood (2015) suggest that the adoption of sustainable practices in the South African construction industry has been slow due to conflicting regulations and stakeholders who fear the liability and litigation when it comes to the performance of new sustainable products and systems. The current legislation is generally voluntary and prescriptive, which further reduces the transition towards a more sustainable approach to the multiple phases of the building life cycle (Ametepey et al 2015; Gan et al 2015; Mousa 2015). Assessing the current awareness amongst built environment stakeholders along with their perceptions is critical to identify and understand the barriers towards a more sustainable built environment in the South African context. By identifying these barriers, it allows key decision-makers to look at possible solutions to overcome these barriers and work towards driving the SC agenda forward.

Behaviour changes for sustainable construction adoption

On a regular basis, individuals, organisations, key stakeholders, and policymakers make decisions that have an impact on the earth's natural resources. Policies and intervention strategies that focus on transitioning these everyday behaviours towards more sustainable outcomes are imperative to achieving development and consumption that are more sustainable (UNEP 2017). However, changing human behaviour can be challenging (Cane et al 2012), as we do not always make rational decisions or behave in predictable ways. (Cane et al 2012) suggest that, although changing behaviour is not easy, it can be more effective if interventions are implemented that are based on evidence-based principles of behaviour change.

Theoretical Domains Framework

To change professional practice, it has been agreed that there is no "magic bullet" (Oxman et al 1995) and that the effectiveness of intervention strategies is sensitive to context (Wensing et al 1998). Michie et al (2005), however, suggest that the mixed results and limited practical value of implementation research were due to a limited theoretical underpinning for the development of interventions. The authors argue that a consensus of psychological theories is necessary to provide clarity and simplify the accessibility and usefulness of theories in behavioural change research. A team of behavioural scientists in collaboration with implementation researchers therefore developed the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) to provide access to a theoretical basis for implementation research. The TDF is an integrated framework grounded in psychological theory which synthesises 128 theoretical constructs from 33 theories relevant to implementation (Michie et al 2005). The original TDF contained 12 domains, and after validation through a consensus conducted by Cane et al (2012), 14 domains covering 84 theoretical constructs were identified, as illustrated in Table 1 (see page 14), which is adopted in this research study. The TDF domains can be condensed into three core components of behaviour, namely capability, opportunity and motivation (Michie et al 2014) (Figure 1). The COM-B model demonstrates that behaviour (B) is a result of the interaction between psychological and physical capabilities (C), to utilise social and physical opportunities (O) through reflective (self-conscious intentions) and automatic (personal needs and desires) motivators (M).





Globally, government authorities, intergovernmental organisations, educational institutions, businesses and organisations have begun to adopt behavioural science theory and methodologies to design and implement effective behaviour change policies and programmes (Klaniecki et al 2018). Most behaviour change interventions have primarily been applied in developed countries with high per-capita consumption rates. However, developing countries present many opportunities to adopt behavioural science to inform policy to align with sustainable development goals due to rapid growth of consumption (UNEP 2017). The application of utilising the TDF and COM-B model in research studies has mostly been adopted in literature to support research in the medical and implementation science field (Atkins et al 2017) and has yet to be applied to understanding and targeting change of behaviour amongst construction industry stakeholders. However, it has been adopted in studies about behaviour change relating to sustainable consumption and sustainable development. An example of this is a case study conducted by Gainforth et al (2016), which adopts the TDF and Behaviour Change Wheel (Michie et al 2014) to develop interventions to change recycling behaviours. Additionally, there have been examples of successful applications of behavioural design to priority consumption areas: energy, water, transportation and mobility, food and diet, and waste and disposal (UNEP 2017).

Objective of this paper

There is a need to change the current behaviour of stakeholders in the construction industry to ensure the sustainability of the industry by adopting sustainable alternatives throughout the life cycle of construction projects. Moreover, the impact of the construction industry on the environment needs to be mitigated. The aim of this study was to use the COM-B model and TDF to identify barriers and drivers of SC to inform the design of future interventions to promote SC adoption and implementation through SC methods, processes and materials.



Given the exploratory nature of this study, a survey research approach was adopted. A structured questionnaire survey was conducted through recruiting various stakeholders who are currently working in the construction industry in South Africa.

The purpose of the survey was to understand the perception and attitude towards sustainable construction by stakeholders in the construction industry.

Study population and sampling

The population of this study comprised construction industry professionals working in the built environment in South Africa on building projects. Due to the large number of professionals in the construction industry, no available list of all construction industry professionals, and potential challenges with access and communication, the sampling frame adopted was a nonprobability sample. Nonprobability sampling is a sampling technique in which the researcher chooses participants based on their willingness to participate in the research study (Etikan et al 2015). A purposive snowball sampling technique was therefore used in this research to obtain a valid and effective overall sample size. This method has been used in previous construction, engineering and management studies and allows for data to be gathered from participants who share the research study or make referrals of prospective participants (Gan et al 2015; Jiang & Wong 2016; Darko et al 2017b; Chan et al 2018). The online questionnaire survey was distributed via LinkedIn (a professional social media platform) to professionals who met the inclusion criteria (i.e. working in the built environment in South Africa on building projects). Using search criteria to filter each of the discipline services provided within the design and development phase of building projects (e.g. quantity surveyors, architects, landscape architects, structural engineers, civil engineers, building services engineers which include mechanical, electrical and fire), as well as location (South Africa), individuals were sent messages inviting them to participate in the research study. Initial participants were asked to share the survey with other professionals in the built environment who they knew also worked on building projects.

Research instrument

The purpose of the questionnaire survey in this study was to understand which barriers and drivers of sustainable construction need to be prioritised for an intervention strategy. A self-administered online questionnaire is the preferred type of data collection procedure for this phase of the research for the following reasons:

i. Cost-effective to administer.

ii. Ease of gathering data, as surveys can be distributed and completed rapidly.

iii. Data inputs are readily available from an online survey database.

iv. Due to automated data capturing, there is a reduced possibility of errors whilst handling the data.

v. Online surveys are convenient for potential participants as they can complete the survey at a time and a place that are convenient for them.



The questionnaire survey was adapted from Huijg et al (2014) and informed by the TDF and COM-B model to guide the behavioural analysis and understand the perceived barriers and drivers of sustainable construction identified by participants. The results of the questionnaire survey allowed the researcher to identify key perceptions from the various domains of the TDF that can be targeted in an intervention strategy to facilitate the adoption and implementation of SC. The questionnaire survey consisted of seven sections covering:

i. Background to the research study and informed consent

ii. Key definitions pertaining to the study

iii. Demographics of participants

iv. Knowledge, skills and social and professional role and identity

v. Beliefs about capabilities, optimism, and beliefs about consequences

vi. Reinforcement, intentions, goals, social influences, and behavioural regulation

vii. Environmental context and resources. The scales used to measure the items include categorical nominal (e.g. type of profession, type of service disciplines at organisations, yes/no questions) and ordinal scales (e.g. years of experience, number of employees at an organisation, Likert scale). The Likert scale which makes up the majority of the questionnaire items was a five-point scale measuring: 1 - strongly disagree, 2 - disagree, 3 - neither disagree or agree, 4 - agree, and 5 - strongly agree. The Likert scale provides an overview of the intensity of an attitude towards a statement and was therefore deemed the appropriate scale used to measure the TDF domain items (Bryman 2010).



The data collected was manipulated and analysed using the statistical software package SPSS. The data analysis was conducted

by performing various statistical analysis approaches. Firstly, the Cronbach's Alpha test was used to measure the reliability of the data, frequency tables were used to report the results from the Likert scale items, followed by determining if there was a significant difference between two or more groups of participants using the Mann-Whitney U test and Kruskal Wallis test. The Mann-Whitney test is a nonparametric test to compare two categorical unpaired groups of data (Gaddis & Gaddis 1990). In this study, the two groups that were studied were structural and civil engineers, as these groups represented a significant sample of at least 30 data sets each. The Kruskal Wallis test is another nonparametric used when more than two categorical groups are compared (Gaddis & Gaddis 1990), which in the case of this research study was identified as the years of experience, which had four groups (0 to 4 years, 5 to 9 years, 10 to 19 years, more than or equal to 20 years).



Out of the 290 questionnaire surveys that were sent out, 108 responses were received, which represents a 37% response rate. It has been argued that studies within the construction industry generally have a lower response rate between 20% and 30% (Abidin & Powmya 2014); Gan et al 2015).

However, the sample size can be considered representative of the population, as the central limit theorem holds true with a sample size greater than 30, which means statistical analysis can be conducted. The descriptive statistics of the sample population are presented in Tables 2 and 3.





TDF and COM-B variable analysis

The questionnaire provided five response categories ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". During the frequency analysis, the responses "agree" and "strongly agree" were combined into one category, agree, which represents a participant who agrees with a statement, and the responses "disagree" and "strongly disagree" were combined into one category, disagree, which represents a participant who disagrees with a statement. This is referred to as categorisation in the tables provided. Questionnaire statements have been simplified for ease of reference. The following section describes the data within the TDF and COM-B model domains and categories.


Capability represents an individual's ability to engage in a target behaviour and having the necessary knowledge and skills to do so (Michie et al 2011). Construction industry stakeholders' psychological capabilities influence their adoption and implementation of SC. Table 4 displays the means and standard deviations for the knowledge, skills and behavioural regulation domains linked to psychological capability and provides the frequency of responses for each questionnaire statement.

Construction industry stakeholders' assessment of their capabilities regarding their knowledge of SC was generally positive, as the most frequent responses to all five questions was "agree". Responses in the skills domain indicated that the majority of stakeholders understand SC (88.9%) and participants agree that education on SC is available (61.1%) through external service providers (56.5%). However, most participants do not have access to training within their organisations (38.9%). Participants perceived that there is a requirement for behaviour change in the construction industry (92.6%), as current construction practices are not sustainable and 71.3% agreed that there is resistance to adopt sustainable alternatives to construction industry processes and methods.


Opportunity represents the social and physical environment that shapes the opportunity to engage in a target behaviour (Michie et al 2011). Social opportunity refers to the social factors that influence the way we think about things (i.e. cultural norms and social cues). Physical opportunity is represented by the environment which includes time, resources and location. The results from the social influences and environmental context and resources domains linked to social and physical opportunity are presented in Table 5.

Social structures within organisations, as well as in the construction industry, influence stakeholders' behaviour towards adopting and implementing SC. 75% of participants agreed that their peers in the construction industry support and encourage SC, and more than half of the participants (52.8%) agreed that their peers in the construction industry demonstrate an interest in SC. Most participants agreed that there is a lack of communication and an integrated work environment amongst construction industry stakeholders (60.2%) and a lack of sustainable technology specifications (61.1%). Participants indicated that organisations are responsible for facilitating a culture of best practice sharing in relation to SC (93.5%) and should promote a culture and awareness about SC (91.6%).

The results further indicated that, for the successful implementation of SC, materials manufacturers should be proactive in the development of SC technologies (93.5%), and availability of better information on cost and benefits of SC technologies from a reliable database is necessary (91.7%).


Motivation to engage in a target behaviour can either be reflective or automatic. Reflective motivation processes involve plans (self-conscious intentions) and evaluations (beliefs about what is good and bad) (Michie et al 2014). On the other hand, automatic motivation processes involve the wants and needs, desires, impulses and reflex responses of individuals. The results from the social/professional role and identity, beliefs about capabilities, optimism, beliefs about consequences, intentions and goals, and reinforcement domains linked to reflective and automatic motivation are presented in Table 6.

All the questions related to participants' social and professional role and identity had highly positive responses with small variance. Participants agree that construction industry professionals play a role in the implementation of SC (90.7%) and that SC adoption shows an organisation's commitment towards its social and environmental responsibility (89.8%). Construction industry professionals are confident that they would adopt SC if they had the skills (87.9%) even if they had no incentive to do so (79.6%). Participants are highly optimistic about SC as it represents a positive change for the construction industry (91.6%) and the adoption and implementation thereof will have a positive impact on the economy, society and environment (88.9%).

Participants agree that SC benefits the end-user through sustainable buildings, which improve indoor air quality and comfort (79.6%) and end-user's productivity (60.2%). Participants were probed about the economic benefits of SC, and the results suggest that SC will ensure green market growth and provide job opportunities (71.3%) and improve the performance of the economy (60.2%). On the other hand, participants believe that the key barriers to adopting SC are that the implementation of SC will increase the capital cost of construction (59.3%) through the adoption of sustainable products and materials (57.4%). Despite this, most participants indicated that there is a need to adopt SC (80.5%). The highly positive responses to questions about participants' intentions and goals indicated that they do intend to consider adopting SC (93.6%) and further develop their SC knowledge and skills (85.2%). Participants indicated that government support and encouragement through financial and market-based incentives (95.4%), tax relief on projects which adopt SC (90.7%), subsidies for research and development linked to SC (89.8%), and access to funding through financial institutions (87%), would increase SC adoption and implementation.

TDF domains analysis

The Cronbach's alpha values for the sub-scales of the questionnaire (i.e. the TDF domains) were shown to have very good reliability (above 0.80 for five scales and above 0.70 for four scales) (Table 7). The items in the questionnaire were therefore combined into the TDF domains for further analysis. To identify which domains need to be targeted in the behaviour change intervention, the TDF domains were analysed as scales. Table 7 displays the minimum and maximum value for the responses, means and standard deviations averaged across all participants. The means for all scales indicate that, on average, participants were positively inclined towards the adoption and implementation of sustainable construction. The optimism scale had the highest mean (4.32(0.60)) followed by the reinforcement scale (4.28(0.57)) and social/professional role and identity scale (4.20(0.60)). All these scales fall under the category of Motivation within the COM-B model which indicates that there is a strong motivation to adopt and implement SC amongst construction industry professionals. The beliefs about consequences scale had the lowest mean (3.49(0.43)) followed by the social influences scale (3.53(0.74)), the knowledge scale (3.61(0.59)) and the skills scale (3.61(0.65)). These scales also indicate the largest variability in responses, which indicates that there could be improvement in all the COM-B categories to improve the adoption and implementation of SC. However, capability (knowledge and skills) and opportunity (social influences) will often influence the motivation (beliefs about consequences) to enact a behaviour (Michie et al 2014). Therefore, the more capable stakeholders are by developing their SC knowledge and skills, and by being in an environment which encourages their SC development, the more they are likely to adopt and implement SC practices.

The analysis of the TDF domains indicate that there are five key behavioural domains which should be targeted, including construction industry stakeholders' beliefs about consequences, knowledge, social influences, skills, and beliefs about capabilities. Ten key barriers and drivers identified in each of these domains are summarised in Table 8.



Although there is a high level of awareness and familiarity with SC, there is a variation in the results when it comes to knowledge about SC and the demand for SC in the construction industry. The high level of awareness and familiarity amongst construction industry stakeholders is contrary to previous studies conducted in developing countries by authors such as Ismail et al (2012), Shari and Soebarto (2012), and Djokoto et al (2014). Their studies suggest that there is a lack of awareness amongst construction industry stakeholders and the public. Firstly, the difference in results could be due to the nature of the research designs adopted - Shari and Soebarto (2012) conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews to identify the barriers to the adoption of SC, whilst the current research study used a survey questionnaire. Secondly, previous research studies focused on specific stakeholder groups, such as developers only, architects only, or contractors only. An example of this is the research study conducted by Ismail et al (2012), which only included developers. This is a different target population to the current research study which included architects, engineers, contractors and quantity surveyors. Lastly, the research instrument is structured differently, as shown in the study conducted by Djokoto et al (2014), where the authors prompted participants to rate the extent to which each of the identified barriers affects SC using a five-point Likert scale, whereas in the current study participants were prompted to rate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with various belief statements about SC.

In a study conducted by Lim et al (2019), the authors stated that, although quantity surveyors in Australia had a reasonable level of awareness of SC, there was still a lack of implementation, which could be attributed to individuals' attitudes towards SC, cultural and institutional challenges. This provides insight into the variation of results regarding the knowledge and demand for SC, which could be explained by a lack of "actionable" knowledge that presents itself in the form of limited information about best practices, access to existing relevant knowledge and the perception of information overload (Wilson & Rezgui 2013). In other words, although participants have the knowledge of what the contents and objectives of SC are, there is no knowledge sharing amongst professionals, or information guides to inform SC implementation. Furthermore, the variation in the results for the demand for SC suggests that there might be a lack of demand from clients for sustainable projects (Serpell et al 2013), a lack of evidence of the benefits and opportunities of SC, and the perception that SC will increase project costs (Shari & Soebarto 2012). Participants indicated that SC is within the scope of construction industry professionals and that they have access to education and training related to SC. This, however, highlights the gap between access to knowledge and training related to SC and the relatively low percentage of participants who have worked on a sustainable building project and successfully implemented SC practices. Additionally, the resistance to the change in current construction industry practices could further hinder the adoption and implementation of SC. Participants felt that it is critical for construction industry stakeholders to change their current behaviour and adopt sustainable alternatives to design and construction methods and processes.

Participants described the social opportunity to adopt and implement SC as positive in relation to the support and encouragement from peers in the construction industry. However, there could be limitations to career development within the scope of sustainability, as superiors in the construction industry might not support the development of skills related to SC. As Opoku and Ahmed (2014) state, there is a shortage of skills and capacity in terms of numbers of construction industry professionals who can support the implementation of SC. Construction industry stakeholders should therefore be encouraged by their industry peers and superiors and given the opportunity to develop their skills to improve the sustainability of the construction industry. Furthermore, without an integrated work environment where stakeholders are working in collaboration to achieve the objectives of SC, the successful adoption and implementation of SC will be deterred (Häkkinen & Belloni 2011). The physical opportunity to adopt and implement SC highlights various barriers, such as the lack of availability of sustainable technologies, lack of sustainable product and material suppliers, and lack of databases with information about sustainable products. This is well-documented in the literature as common technological barriers to the adoption and implementation of SC (Aigbavboa et al 2017; Chan et al 2017b; Häkkinen & Belloni 2011; Khalfan et al 2015; Pham et al 2019; Pitt et al 2009; Shi et al 2013). Participants appreciate that the principles of SC encourage environmental protection through the conservation of resources, energy and water, and waste reduction. Providing opportunities within organisations to develop a culture of sustainability, best practice sharing and commitment to increasing the awareness of SC will improve the adoption of SC. Furthermore, regulations and frameworks to guide the adoption and implementation of SC, as well as reliable databases with sustainable product information, will further aid the adoption and implementation of SC. The findings suggest that there are opportunities to transition towards a more sustainable construction industry.

The survey results indicate that motivation plays a role in determining the likelihood of participants engaging with SC. In terms of reflective motivation, all participants indicated that SC was beneficial to the development of their careers as construction industry professionals. Participants agreed that if they had the skills, they would adopt SC and were highly optimistic about the benefits of SC for the construction industry in the long term. Participants had strong intentions to develop their SC knowledge and skills and encourage the education and training thereof. In terms of automatic motivation, participants indicated government should support and encourage SC through incentives, tax relief, subsidies and access to funding for projects that incorporate sustainable principles and practices. These findings are supported by previous literature, which suggests that motivation and support from key role players in the construction industry, such as government, developers and clients, are essential for the successful and widespread adoption of SC, specifically in the early stages of adoption. The results from the survey suggest that addressing the barriers to the implementation of SC linked to the capabilities, opportunities and motivation of construction industry stakeholders may facilitate the transition towards a more sustainable construction industry.


The findings from this study should be interpreted and understood with the following limitations in mind: Although the study aimed to seek the perceptions of all construction industry stakeholders, structural and civil engineers represented 67.6% of the sample. The findings of the research related to the targeted TDF domains should therefore be interpreted as such; however, it is deemed to be transferrable to other stakeholder groups. There were limitations and challenges with recruitment of participants. Nonetheless, the participants who responded provided sufficient contextual data, which helped to achieve the objectives of this research study.




The overall positive response to the study suggests that there is a need to adopt and implement SC, and construction industry stakeholders are optimistic about the positive impact SC could have on the economy, environment and society. The findings of the research study highlight a range of factors related to construction industry stakeholders' capability, opportunity and motivation that require improvement to increase the adoption and implementation of SC practices. Using a theory-based approach, ten barriers and drivers of SC adoption and implementation, related to construction industry stakeholders' capability, opportunity and motivation, were identified. The ten barriers and drivers included: awareness, knowledge and information of SC, interest in SC and demand for SC adoption, training availability of SC, access to education on SC, behavioural change towards SC, industry peer influences, confidence in SC implementation, economic factors, perception of SC, and social benefits of adopting SC. Five key target domains were identified: beliefs about consequences, knowledge, social influences, skills and beliefs about capabilities, which can be used to develop behaviour change interventions, such as interventions aimed at adopting circular economy principles or agile and lean principles to improve the adoption and implementation of SC amongst construction industry stakeholders.


Recommendation 1

By adopting a qualitative theory-based approach, a future research study may provide greater in-depth detail about which domains should be targeted using the TDF domains as a guide. Specific domains may also be identified that were not highlighted by the quantitative approach, which restricts the participants' responses to a structured set of questions.

Recommendation 2

Future research should include additional disciplines from other stages of the project life cycle, such as clients and project managers, to understand the context of the research from varying perspectives.

Recommendation 3

Universities are key contributors to education, research and innovation which are essential to achieve the goals of sustainable development within the construction industry. Integrating sustainability as part of the undergraduate curriculum and post-graduate studies in higher education is necessary to promote sustainable development in the built environment. This ensures that graduates are aware of their ethical and social responsibility towards the environment and the welfare of society.

Recommendation 4

Organisations should provide stakeholders with access to education, training and upskilling through continuing professional development courses to improve the knowledge and skills available to facilitate the adoption and implementation of SC. Sustainable development strategies and internal policies should be developed to further enhance the organisation's offering within the industry.

Recommendation 5

Policies and legislation which govern the adoption and implementation of SC should be developed and regulated by government to emphasise the need to change the current trajectory of the construction industry. Financial and market-based incentives would further encourage organisations to adopt best practices within the industry in relation to sustainable construction.



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R J Marsh
Department of Industrial Engineering Faculty of Engineering Stellenbosch University Stellenbosch
7600 South Africa
T: +27 21 808 4234 / +353 89 486 2420 E:

A C Brent
Department of Industrial Engineering Faculty of Engineering Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch 7600, South Africa
T: +27 21 808 4234 / +64 4 463 5960 E:

I H De Kock
Department of Industrial Engineering Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch 7600, South Africa
T: +27 21 883 9533 / +27 21 808 4234 E:




RALMAR MARSH (CEng MIEI) Is a registered Chartered Engineer with Engineers Ireland. She completed her BEng in Civil Engineering in 2013 and her MEng in Engineering Management (Sustainable Systems) in 2020 at Stellenbosch University, and is currently employed as a Structural Engineer at one of reland's leading engineering consultancies. Her main fields of interest include susta i nab il ity in the construction industry and contributing to the digital transformation of the design, construction and management processes of the built environment.



PROF ALAN BRENT (Pr Eng) is registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa, and is also a Chartered Member of Engineering New Zealand. He is a professor of, and the inaugural holder of the chair in, Sustainable Energy Systems in the Faculty of Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington, and an extraordinary professor of Engineering Management and Sustainable Systems in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Stellenbosch University.



DR IMKE DE KOCK (Pr Eng, MSAIIE) is a professionally registered industrial engineer with international experience in the execution and management of industrial engineering and engineering management projects. In 2015 she joined the academic staff at Stellenbosch University, where she is a senior lecturer In the Department of Industrial Engineering and part-time at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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