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How Can Construction be Sustainable? Trends & Challenges

In the next twenty years, the buildings to be redesigned or rebuilt globally will cover an area three times the total size of the built-up area in the United States. Despite how daunting the task seems, it is within the capacity of the global construction industry. The industry players get a chance to make responsible decisions when reconstructing buildings. Sustainable construction should be at the forefront of their decision-making process.

How Can Construction Be Sustainable?

To enhance the sustainability of the construction industry companies must reduce fuel consumption, utilize environmentally-conscious building design, improve waste management, implement sustainable materials, as well as prefabricated production.

Steps to Improve Sustainable Construction

Construction companies have a choice to use materials, designs, and transportation methods that promote sustainable construction practices. Even though these choices can come with a larger financial burden, the pay-off is a greener environment to house the rapidly increasing global population. How can companies implement sustainable construction in their projects?

1 | Reduce Fuel Consumption

One of the reasons why the construction industry accounts for more than 40% of carbon emissions is the cost of transporting materials. However, a frequently overlooked factor is the amount of fuel consumed within the construction site. Construction sites are often wasteful in their fuel usage throughout a project.

One way to adopt sustainable construction is to convert the machinery in a site to hybrid gas-electric equivalents. Construction sites can also use fully electric vehicles to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

2 | Environmentally-Conscious Building Design

The best opportunity for construction companies to make a dent in their projects’ sustainability comes in the design phase. A company has numerous options for sustainable construction when designing a building. Some of the planet-friendly options include using recycled building materials, renewable energy sources, window placement to maximize natural light, etc.

A construction company could also incorporate intelligent devices to reduce the building’s energy consumption. Additionally, they could use materials and procedures that increase the building’s lifespan.

3 | Improve Waste Disposal Methods

According to the U.S. Environmental protection agency, construction and engineering companies produce up to 530 million tons of waste annually. Most of the waste ends up in landfills. A whopping 90% of this waste comes from demolitions.

Construction companies can reverse this trend by reusing more waste and taking more material for recycling.

4 | Sustainable Construction Materials

Construction companies should increase their usage of sustainable construction materials to improve the carbon footprint of their buildings. Recycled materials are easier to acquire and are cheaper than raw materials.

Construction companies could also prioritize suppliers who make efforts to produce materials sustainably. This practice rewards the construction company and reduces carbon emissions throughout the supply chain.

5 | Use Prefabricated Materials

Prefabrication involves the production of door panels, stairs, windows, wall panels, and roof trusses in a controlled environment. Prefabricated materials cause less wastage, save time, and can meet tight specification tolerance. Furthermore, prefabrication plants have better air filtration systems and effluent management than construction sites. Their waste management causes lower environmental degradation compared to on-site fabrication.

Wooden construction work

Why is Sustainability Important for the Construction Industry?

Analysts frequently point out the construction industry as one of the top global polluters. Up to 11% of the emissions by the construction industry come from the production of building materials.

Concrete, for instance, is durable and versatile. However, cement production accounts for more than 8% of global carbon emissions. Green concrete production has been increasing, but it is nowhere close to the level of traditional concrete production. Sustainable construction is one of the best ways to offset the emissions from the production of construction materials.

Sustainable construction goes beyond creating buildings with lower environmental impact. It also improves how people live. The benefits of sustainable construction fall into three groups:

  • Environmental
  • Financial and
  • Social benefits.


The following are the primary benefits of green construction.

1 | Cost Reduction

Although the construction industry spends $10 trillion a year, it has many financial challenges. The construction industry has a rework rate of up to 30%, making sustainable construction practices a must if a construction company wants to remain profitable. Green buildings cost less than their conventional counterparts because they use fewer resources (e.g. water and energy). Additionally, their rate of return on investment is higher.

2 | Reduced Construction Waste

The total waste produced by the construction industry is mind-boggling. Sustainable construction reigns in waste production by using renewable materials and reducing the overall consumption of materials.

3 | Increased Productivity

Environmentally friendly workplaces improve the performance of employees and reduce absenteeism. The environment in a sustainably constructed building improves concentration and enables workers to work more effectively.

4 | Improved Health

Green buildings are beneficial to the health of their occupants. While conventional buildings contain paints, furnishing, carpets, and cleaning products that can be harmful, sustainable buildings use materials that are not detrimental to people’s health.

5 | Environmental Protection

Sustainable construction sites use recycled materials. These materials contribute to environmental protection because they reduce waste. Additionally, sustainable construction sites use less energy because they incorporate solar heaters, insulated air conditioning pipes, and solar panels to improve energy efficiency.

Green city with sustainable construction

Sustainable Construction Trends

The rising cost of construction materials, energy, and unpredictable weather are causing a paradigm shift in the construction industry. Companies are now shooting for maximum value by adopting sustainable construction. The following are some popular construction trends:

Use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to Boost Efficiency

BIM is proving to be a primary component of sustainable construction. Although the system is not marketed as a sustainability technology, it delivers a wealth of information that helps boost efficiency and reduces the environmental footprint of every project.

The building information modeling system can improve the efficiency of constructing any element of building components. It synergizes an element’s lead-time, curing and drying allowances, building and installation period, sequencing, and interdependence with other areas. The efficiency created by the BIM reduces material wastage, rework expenses, and enables the construction company to deliver the project on time.

Extending the Lifespan of Building Materials

One of the ways contractors extend the life of building materials is by salvaging raw materials from buildings they are demolishing. This sustainable construction strategy reduces the cost of buying virgin material and reduces the carbon footprint of the construction company.

Construction companies are now using buildings marked for demolition as sources of raw materials for new structures. They are also repurposing old buildings as temporary storehouses for building materials instead of building stores.

Moving Construction Off-Site

Sustainable construction companies are moving towards modular construction. Building and assembling parts of a construction site in the controlled environment of a factory allows a contractor to keep tight tolerance and minimizes wastage and scrap. Off-site construction can also enable a contractor to reduce the construction time of a building by weeks or months.

Increased Adoption of Green Energy

New buildings are becoming less reliant on conventional sources of energy thanks to the adoption of sustainable construction. The two main ways contractors are achieving green energy for buildings are by either incorporating energy-production installations or relying on power from green sources only.

Refurbishing Instead of Rebuilding

In the past, contractors often tore buildings down to make room for new ones. This trend is declining since we understand the resources needed to create brand new structures.

The technological advancement in the construction industry now enables contractors to redesign new buildings using the existing ones as the foundation.

Older buildings are sturdy, and their inefficiency is because of few areas like inefficient insulation and windows. Modernizing these parts can revitalize old structures and eliminate the need to demolish them.

Renovating these old buildings saves a significant amount of money and emissions for the construction company.

construction site

Challenges of Sustainable Construction

There are five main challenges facing sustainable construction including:

1 | Capital Cost

The capital expenditure for making sustainable buildings is usually higher than for traditional buildings. However, most people fail to connect the capital cost and operational cost. Developers could think that the market is unwilling to pay for the higher cost of sustainable buildings and might avoid building them altogether.

2 | Information Gathering

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a sustainable building will be affordable, if the technology is reliable, and if the structure will perform as expected. There is a shortage of research on how green buildings perform. Contractors are also concerned that the complex designs of sustainable buildings might make them obsolete earlier than traditional buildings.

3 | Limited Design Philosophies

The limited understanding is caused by insufficient knowledge of new building materials, how to get regulatory approval for new technologies, and labor issues because of labor-saving measures.

4 | Limited Skill During Construction

New building materials and technologies require skills that might be in short supply. The contractor has to deal with not only a shortage of skilled labor during construction but during maintenance of the building.

5 | Materials and Technology

The construction of sustainable buildings requires unique materials that might not be locally available. The selection process of materials for sustainable construction can be complex since the contractor has to account for additional costs such as transportation.

Conclusion

Thanks to the scarcity of materials and climate change, the need for environmentally-friendly building technologies is increasing. Construction companies are scrambling to find the best techniques and materials to construct sustainable buildings. However, this push for greener buildings is not without its drawbacks. Overall the benefits of sustainable construction outweigh its shortcomings. The only thing lagging is skill and adequate research data on materials and techniques used in constructing sustainable buildings.

If you want to learn more about sustainability, PropTech, smart buildings, and smart cities, feel free to take a look at our other articles.

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