- Bill Starkey
What Is Sustainable Building and Why Is It So Important?
As one of the largest users of global resources and one of the greatest contributors to pollution, the construction industry has a huge responsibility to transition to sustainable practices. But what is sustainable building, and what are the advantages over conventional construction? We look at the facts.
What Is the Definition of Sustainable Building?
To qualify as sustainable, development projects must incorporate eco-friendly methods that support the environment in the long term while meeting the demands of an ever-expanding population. Sustainable construction requires developers to use recyclable and renewable resources and materials for construction projects, take care to reduce energy consumption and waste wherever possible, and protect the natural environment surrounding the development.
Sustainable construction does not end after the project is finished. Rather, it should have a positive impact on the local environment through the course of the structure’s lifespan. Steps to mitigate the development’s negative environmental impact might include the use of solar panels to lower energy consumption, proper insulation to guard against heat loss, and materials that offer a long lifespan.
There is a general perception that sustainable building is expensive, which can make it a less attractive option to developers. However, according to a 2018 World Green Building Council report, although cost remains a concern, owners of green developments report significant cost savings through reductions in utility bills.
The Environmental Impact of the Construction Industry
Constructing new buildings using traditional means harms the environment in a variety of different ways, including:
Loss of wildlife habitats to make room for new developments
The unnecessary burning of fossil fuels to power heavy machinery
Inefficient electricity use
The pollution of local water tables when mining for raw materials
An increase in carbon emissions due to the fabrication and transportation of construction materials The manufacture of concrete alone has created a staggering 2.8 billion tons of CO2 to date, a figure that will only keep rising, as 4 billion metric tons of concrete are produced every year.
What Is Being Done?
In the UK, the government outlined ambitious green targets in its Clean Growth Strategy, pledging to cut emissions by a minimum of 80 percent by 2050. The UK government suggested that the construction industry would play a leading role in driving down emissions. With that in mind, it published the Sustainable Construction Strategy, providing a clear path to make the construction industry more sustainable by investing in smart technologies and green construction.
Sustainable developers have made great strides in recent years in terms of introducing renewable energy to construction sites. One such example is a solar-powered modular battery system that developers can deploy onsite. These batteries can be used to power vehicles, electric tools, and security equipment. Some of these systems offset as much as 1 metric ton of CO2 every week, along with 400 liters of diesel. When implemented across large construction projects, this can equate to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Why Choose Sustainable Building?
Incorporating sustainable materials into the building’s construction is an effective way of reducing a development’s carbon footprint. Materials such as sustainable concrete, wood from sustainable forests, and alternative brick materials like wool, mud, or even cigarette butts are all effective ways of lessening a building’s negative environmental impact.
One of the main negatives of plastic from an environmental perspective lies in the fact that it takes hundreds of years to degrade. However, from a builder’s point of view, plastic’s longevity is a plus. It gives structures a longer lifespan and does not require as much maintenance or replacement as degradable materials. Provided it is used responsibly, plastic has an integral role to play in sustainable construction.
Benefits of Sustainable Building
Sustainable buildings confer numerous advantages over traditional constructions aside from protecting the environment and reducing waste. With well-insulated ceilings, walls, and windows, as well as water-capturing and repurposing systems, sustainable constructions ensure that resources are not wasted, presenting attractive cost reductions in terms of lower electricity and water bills. Sustainable structures also attract a higher ROI compared with their non-green contemporaries.
The health of building occupants is also a priority in green construction, with an emphasis on creating a flow of natural light and air. According to data from the UK’s Environmental Protection Agency, outdoor air is between 2 and 5 times less polluted than indoor air. The use of sustainable materials also aids the air purification process, lessening the release of harmful chemicals within the workplace or home.
In countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the construction industry drains up to 40 percent of total energy output, according to the Supply Chain Sustainability School. Data also suggests that construction in OECD countries generates up to 40 percent of all solid waste, accounts for 30 percent of total raw material consumption, and emits up to 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Transitioning to sustainable construction is a priority in many countries today, helping us to reach targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, counter climate change, and protect the world we live in for future generations.