As a whole, the construction industry uses large amounts of global resources and contributes heavily to pollution. It is reported that building and construction companies can contribute up to the following amounts across various industries within a single economy:
- 25-40% of total energy consumed
- 30% of raw materials used
- 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions used
- 30-40% of solid waste generated
It’s clear why sustainability has been deemed a major goal and responsibility for the construction industry.
Sustainable construction has been developed as a solution and entails utilizing renewable and recyclable materials and resources, reducing waste and energy consumption where applicable, and protecting the natural environment at each job site. End results of sustainable construction projects provide a structure that is environmentally-friendly in the long-term.
How Sustainability Fits Into the Realm of Construction
As an upfront barrier, various sustainable efforts or resources can come with a higher cost. What’s important to recognize is that this initial cost that may be higher than typical usually leads directly to less expensive ongoing costs throughout the rest of construction and the building’s lifetime.
Ways of Implementing Sustainable Construction
There are a few processes and opportunities that construction companies have in the U.S. to achieve higher sustainability:
- LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): Registrations for this certification/rating system have increased every year since the program was established in 1993. As of the end of 2019, the number of registrations had amounted to roughly 70,000. Learn more about the green building initiative and certification here.
- Minimize waste: Although construction waste can be inevitable, the amount that can be minimized may surprise you. A simple step is to use materials or suppliers that don’t require an unnecessary amount of packaging. Utilizing recycled materials for various components can also reduce the amount of waste produced. It’s additionally important to train your employees to separate and categorize project waste as it’s developed. Using renewable energy to power operational components or using onsite water treatment plants are another two ways of reducing the waste at your construction job site.
- Green building materials: It can be very helpful to establish a network of vendors that use green building materials that support sustainability efforts. Some of these building materials include wood, recycled metals, sustainable concrete, mud or wool bricks, or even straw bales.
- Prefabrication: Modular construction has gotten popular in recent years within the industry. Building individual parts of an overall project or structure within a controlled environment and then transferring it to the job sites keep projects on track for timing, budgeting, and materials used—all contributing to a sustainable build.
- Standardized processes: If you approach each construction project differently, your team could spend unnecessary time getting up-to-speed on the process for that particular construction. No need to reinvent the wheel—you can still accomplish completely custom builds, specific to your client’s needs while using a standardized process. Your projects can get completed more quickly, efficiently, and with less waste due to errors.
- Optimal equipment performance: Plan your team’s workday to optimize each piece of equipment and exactly when it should be used—every minute that a piece of machinery is idling or used inappropriately contributes to higher energy costs and carbon emissions. Looking for ways to reduce the use of heavy machinery where applicable can help for long-term effects.
Benefits of Sustainable Construction
Implementing sustainability measures in your construction process has far-reaching benefits for both your business and external factors:
- Environmental: The use of renewable energy, green building, and sustainable resources helps in fighting against climate change and improves waste management and high carbon footprints. The World Green Building Council stated:
- “Green buildings can not only reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment, by using less water, energy or natural resources, but they can—in many cases—have a positive impact on the environment (at the building or city scales) by generating their own energy or increasing biodiversity.”
- Financial: Despite the initial cost being higher on some fronts of sustainable construction, green buildings are reported to see a 7% increase in their value versus traditional buildings. Utility bills are also likely to be cheaper.
- Social: Sustainability is a high priority across virtually every industry in today’s world. Your team can rise above the competition if your construction process involves sustainable methods. Worker productivity is also likely to increase with these measures in place.
As co-owner of Galbraith/Pre-Design, Inc., Mark Galbraith is responsible for the construction of commercial facilities in nine states. Continuing his family’s tradition of commercial and industrial construction in south central Pennsylvania and beyond, Mark’s experience includes site analysis and selection, pre-construction services, field engineering and project management.