The construction industry consumes a majority of the planet’s natural resources. Climate change has created a need for the construction industry to reduce its environmental impact, with the government stepping in to ensure sustainability.
Embracing sustainable construction is a bittersweet undertaking as it presents both challenges and benefits.
Table of Contents
Definition of sustainable construction
Sustainable construction is the use of renewable and recyclable materials in construction to reduce energy consumption and wastage. Sustainable construction primarily exists to minimize the impact of construction on the environment.
Sustainable construction encompasses the building project and design to ensure that the finished building has a minimal environmental impact. In addition, sustainable construction demands that the materials and elements chosen benefit the environment. Sustainability in construction includes solar panels, energy-efficient roof hatches, and energy-saving insulation.
Importance of sustainable construction
Sustainable construction is essential because the construction industry significantly impacts the environment. The construction industry not only industry consumes a lot of energy but also has the potential to infringe on wild habitats. The construction industry contributes 36% of the world’s energy usage and accounts for 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
The industry uses heavy machinery and equipment that relies on fuel. Additionally, more efficient electricity usage is necessary to prevent unnecessary fuel combustion. The shipping and fabrication of construction materials further increase carbon emissions. Mining raw materials have been found to cause water pollution, and concrete manufacturing results in tons of CO2 emission annually. Finally, the improper management and disposal of waste can cause pollution and affect local communities.
Benefits of Sustainable Construction
There is a lot of opportunity for sustainable construction. Sustainability is now more accessible than ever and worth the initial investment. Sustainability is a viable investment with a measurable ROI, not a mere PR stunt. The benefits of sustainable construction are divided into environmental, social, and economic benefits.
- Waste reduction
Global warming has become a growing concern worldwide over the past decades. As a result, pollution is widespread, and natural resources are facing rapid depletion.
The construction industry can use sustainable technological advancements to help slow down the adverse effects of climate change. In addition, renewable resources and methods can significantly reduce waste and ensure a clean planet.
- Reduction of carbon footprint
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), buildings are responsible for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Large corporations are continually adopting and supporting green initiatives in the United States and the rest of the world.
Property owners and large businesses are opting to impose sustainability which is positive for society and businesses.
- Promotion of healthier living
Our environment affects our health; physical, mental, and emotional. Sustainable architecture has been proven to improve inhabitants' overall quality of life. Modernized thermal conditions, lighting and power sources, air quality, and ergonomic features have significantly improved inhabitants’ health, quality of life, and stress levels.
- Global Impact
Businesses that adopt sustainable construction contribute to creating a more sustainable planet, which impacts future generations. The global social impact of sustainable construction is more significant than the benefits to businesses and local communities because it sets an example for the entire industry.
- Better reputation
The market for sustainable buildings is growing steadily with increasing public awareness. As a result, the size of the green construction industry doubles every three years. Smart construction business owners understand that building a reputation for sustainability is essential to attract more business.
- Boosting the economy
According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), the green building industry generates over $134.3 billion in labor income. This means sustainable construction boosts the American economy by providing employment opportunities to meet the increased demand for construction workers.
- Cost efficiency
Sustainable buildings have significantly lower maintenance and operational costs. These buildings are fitted with specially engineered elements to reduce energy and water bills. While the initial investment in sustainable buildings can be expensive, these elements prove cost-efficient in the long run.
- Lower cost of materials
Sustainability involves using eco-friendly construction materials while maintaining quality and structural integrity. In addition, recycling and reusing materials help reduce the money spent on materials.
- Increased productivity
Sustainable construction practices improve productivity by streamlining project workflows, reducing rework, minimizing delays, and reducing the need for maintenance.
The challenges of sustainable construction
The main challenges of sustainable construction are cost, the need for more awareness, and resistance to change. The goal will be almost impossible if the client’s attitude and budget do not allow for sustainability.
Sustainable construction is costly, and contractors need help to adopt sustainable construction practices with severe budget constraints. However, green buildings are worth at least 7% more than traditional buildings, a fact that contractors can leverage during the tender stage to get a better budget.
Sustainable construction practices
There are several practices to make construction projects more sustainable. For example, building materials reduce mining and processing costs. Contractors can also reduce fuel consumption by sourcing materials near a construction site. There is also a need for efficient project management systems to minimize downtime.
Materials and resources
In 2010, researchers from the Schools of Architecture at the University of Seville, Spain, and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK, discovered new and greener ways to produce wool and clay bricks. Wool and clay bricks reduce pollution through greenhouse gases are they do not require kiln fires.
Plastic is known to harm the environment but can be very beneficial if used appropriately in construction. Plastic materials do not degrade over long periods and require less replacement and maintenance than traditional building materials. Therefore, manufacturers should incorporate recycled plastic to create durable recycled construction materials.
Wood only requires a little energy to produce. However, we must manage forests properly to provide wood as a renewable construction material and preserve wildlife habitats.
Contractors can use straw bales for insulation as they offer a greener alternative to concrete and plaster. In addition, straw bales are sustainable and affordable.
Renewable energy is an excellent way to promote energy efficiency in construction. The modular battery system is popularly used to power vehicles, machinery, and electric power tools. The modular battery system deploys quickly and recharges via solar panels. The system benefits the environment by offsetting tons of carbon dioxide and approximately 100l of diesel weekly.
Sustainable buildings are designed to consume as little energy as possible. Energy efficiency can be as simple as good insulation to maintain a certain temperature level and consume less power for heating and cooling. Energy-efficient buildings also make the most of sunlight to keep the building warm. Building designers can achieve energy efficiency by using low-reflective glass and double-glazed windows to let in natural light while reducing the need for electricity in the daytime.
Wind turbines and solar panels can generate power at the construction site and partially meet the energy requirements of a building. Solar power may not be a good energy source for large commercial buildings but can reduce energy costs.
Buildings consume a lot of water. Sustainable construction aims to reduce water consumption through recycling and reusing when possible. For example, low-flow or dual-flush toilets are now used to reduce water usage as they use up to five times less water than ordinary toilets. In addition, modern sink faucets are designed to turn themselves off and aerate water so that less is used.
Using rainwater for landscaping and irrigation is also a great way to make a building more water-efficient.
Indoor and environmental quality
Sustainable construction goes beyond using the newest materials. It involves building methods that enhance renewable and sustainable efforts. These methods include constructing green buildings, cutting materials with precision to minimize waste, proper waste management, treating water on-site, recycling, conserving energy, and selecting sustainable recycled building materials.
Innovation and design
Construction projects can achieve environmental and social sustainability through careful innovation and design. For example, innovative techniques such as low-flow toilets have significantly reduced building water and energy consumption.
Social sustainability aims to improve the quality of life of the people inhabiting a building. Being sustainable means allowing these people's current and future needs to influence the design of a building, creating a flexible construction that can be repurposed with evolving needs.
A sustainable design can apply to a multi story office building and a single-family home. It can be used longer and reduces the need to tear down an old building only to rebuild a new one.
Indoor and environmental quality
Sustainable construction aims to improve both the indoor and environmental quality of a building. Sustainability ensures that the indoor environment of a building is safe and healthy for the occupants.
For example, workers in an office building are more comfortable and productive when they have natural light and high indoor air quality. The HVAC system must efficiently eliminate pollutants that could cause sickness, and the paint and insulation should be chemical-free.
Site selection and planning
Site selection and planning involve the choice of a construction location that is optimal for sustainability. For example, construction is more sustainable with access to raw materials.
The location and orientation of a building play a vital role in its sustainability. For example, a commercial building too far from residential areas will harm the environment as people travel farther to get there. Buildings must be designed to use existing infrastructure and fit seamlessly into the atmosphere.
Terra Bio Hotel
Terra Bio Hotel is a 41-room hotel in Medellín that was built sustainably by reusing materials and elements from an old house. Engineers used the soil from the excavation to produce aggregates and make concrete blocks for the construction. The window design allows natural light while preventing direct sunshine entry, ensuring energy efficiency and indoor comfort.
Additionally, the project used water that was treated and recycled on-site. The architectural design optimized bioclimatic strategies for lighting and ventilation. The Terra Bio Hotel also captures rainwater and recycles water for cleaning and toilets. It also features a solid waste management room with a composting system.
The Bullitt Center in Seattle
The Bullitt Center is a 6-story, 52000-square-foot building that operates on a net-zero-energy and net-zero-water basis. The Bullitt Center, which Miller Hull Partnership designed, has unique, sustainable features such as rainwater harvesting, composting toilets, durable timber structure, and occupant comfort and daylighting.
The Bullitt Center was constructed using safe materials sourced locally to reduce the construction’s environmental impact.
Passive House is an initiative created in the 1990s to certify single-family homes. Passive House had three core requirements; modeled total energy demand, heating and cooling demands, and actual airtightness.
Today, all Passive House buildings must meet specific sustainable construction standards. These include high insulation, verified airtightness, proper ventilation with minimal energy consumption, passive solar heating in cold climates and seasons, minimal solar heat gain in warmer temperatures and seasons, and a lack of thermal bridges.
Sustainability has become a global concern over the past few decades due to increasing climate change and global warming, which threaten to deplete our natural resources. Since the construction industry consumes many of the planet’s natural resources, the industry must be at the forefront of sustainable initiatives and practices. Therefore, sustainable construction is now a need for construction businesses.
Sustainable construction is not a one-size-fits-all practice, but every business must do its part in reducing environmental impact. Sustainable construction uses renewable and recyclable materials, reduces energy consumption, and minimizes waste. However, sustainable construction does not stop at materials. It also includes innovation and design that can be repurposed.
The benefits of sustainable construction are endless, but the main ones can be split into environmental, social, and economic benefits. The ecological benefits of sustainable construction are reduced waste and lower carbon footprints. Socially, sustainable construction promotes healthy living, strengthens a company’s reputation, and creates a global impact. It also boosts the economy, increases cost efficiency, reduces the cost of materials, and improves productivity.