According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), sustainable building design seeks to “reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance.” During the construction phase, this philosophy involves reducing waste, depending on renewable resources whenever possible, and focusing on building spaces that will reduce consumption and byproducts in the future.
Sustainable construction is synonymous with green building because both terms seek to limit environmental impact both during construction and throughout the life of the structure.
Despite growing general awareness of sustainability and the harmfulness of greenhouse gasses (GHG), the construction industry has been slow to embrace the green building trend. Carbon emissions from construction have trended upward in recent years. This issue has led to calls for more energy-efficient buildings constructed with renewable materials and building methods that limit emissions and environmental impact.
Here is how such sustainable construction methods can positively impact the green building movement.
Sustainable construction can take different forms. Whether an architect calls for renewable materials or a contractor collects leftover steel scraps for recycling, the goal is always the same: to lower the environmental impact of the project.
Here are some of the green building methods those involved in the design and construction process can adopt to increase the overall sustainability of the project.
These examples, along with other related methods, can lessen the environmental impact of construction. However, the benefits of green building practices bring other advantages to project investors and stakeholders, construction and development companies, contractors and laborers, and the wider community where the project takes place.
Construction managers, architects, and stakeholders often seek to maximize value during the design, procurement, and construction stages of a project. This approach is necessary because of the slim profit margins in the construction industry. Homebuilding companies average 7% profit per project, which does not leave much room for inaccurate estimates or extra expenses.
As sustainable building practices developed, they earned a reputation for being more expensive. This image caused many to ignore green methods. When you look at the results and benefits of green construction, you will likely see that both economic and environmental advantages outweigh any potential drawbacks.
Of course, careful estimates using reliable software are always necessary to measure the price of using different materials and methods during construction.
Here is a look at the different results possible for construction companies that rely on green building methods.
Jobsite safety issues include airborne toxins, which can be reduced by using materials that do not contain chemical compounds and relying on equipment and machinery with low emissions. A similar dynamic could be put in place in indoor work areas. Green building designs often rely on efficient ventilation, which can help remove particles like sawdust and paint fumes.
Finally, a well-planned waste-handling system can help contractors avoid materials-handling accidents, which are among the most common causes of injuries.
Rework is a common problem in the construction industry, with some studies finding that 12% of the project's value disappeared because of the need to fix mistakes or upgrade quality.
A careful design process and methodical use of construction submittals and requests for information (RFIs) can help construction managers and contractors avoid the need for immediate repairs or corrections.
Also, green buildings often call for resilient design, which takes the elements into consideration and creates structures that won’t be damaged by excessive moisture, ice, cold, high winds, or other hazards in the local area. This makes the project greener, but it also reduces the overall costs.
Construction companies can reduce waste in multiple ways. They can engage in a recycling program that could include collecting scrap metal, crushing concrete and asphalt for reuse, and salvaging reusable components like appliances, wiring, and pipes.
The construction industry has made strides in this area, with only 145 million of 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris sent to landfills and 445 million tons recycled or repurposed. The materials can be resold to reduce overall costs for the project.
Precise, software-aided measurements and estimates during the planning and procurement phases can also reduce waste by ensuring that every material ordered will cover the needs of the project without any surplus.
Life-cycle costs measure the total expenditures necessary to own and operate a property and replace it or take it down when it is no longer useful.
Not only are sustainable buildings more efficient and, therefore, cheaper to operate, the practice of using and salvaging recyclable materials can reduce both construction and demolition costs. Resilient, low-maintenance designs can further reduce ownership costs.
Research has shown that people are willing to pay a premium for green buildings, with prices 8-18% higher for sustainable, efficient properties than for comparable traditional buildings. Rental prices are also slightly higher for green properties.
Developers seeking to get higher profits can consider sustainable building designs as a way to increase returns without adding risk.
If green buildings are in demand, it makes sense that those who produce those structures gain a better reputation in the industry and with the wider public. Some architects and builders may even seek certifications, such as LEED, to prove the sustainability of their designs and bolster their reputation.
A strong public image could lead to more high-profile projects in the future.
Buildings account for 40% of all global carbon emissions. They play a significant role in releasing the pollution that causes global warming.
Sustainable building methods seek to lower carbon output at different levels. Builders may use recycled materials that require less processing than new materials, reduce transportation and equipment emissions, and create buildings that are more efficient.
Each green building contributes to the overall sustainability of the community. It improves water and air quality, protects natural ecosystems, and improves climate resiliency.
Green building improvements can contribute to overall air quality and nature conservation efforts rather than counteracting them. If the green building trend grows enough, it may help ambitious global initiatives to limit pollution and slow global warming.
Several factors are driving the development of sustainable construction and pushing the wider adoption of green building methods.
With these tools and trends and a growing knowledge of the benefits of sustainable methods, green construction is set to become more widespread in the coming years.