Thursday, March 30, 2017
What’s the current impact of construction on the environment?
It is thought that around half of all non-renewable resources we use are used in construction. It’s this fact that makes it one of the least sustainable industries on the globe.
But construction is of course, is a complete necessity. Everything from the roads we travel on to the houses in which we live need to be constructed, and usually, the materials needed to construct them are non-renewable. So how do we pivot and change our construction methods and materials to have less of a damaging effect on the environment around us and create a sustainable world for future generations?
Here, Raised Floor Solutions, look at sustainable building and its future.
What’s the current impact of construction on the environment?
Traditional construction methods are affecting the environment in a number of ways:
Global warming and climate change: Over the past 100 years the Earth has warmed. This can be attributed to an increase in the concentration of certain greenhouse gases, chief of which is carbon dioxide, which is most often produced when a fossil fuel is burnt to produce energy. In the UK around half of the national energy use is related to the construction industry. Fossil fuel energy is used in producing materials, the construction process, and by the occupants of a building throughout its life.
Resource depletion: Construction, as an industry, often uses stone and primary aggregates. Through extracting these resources major damage to the ecosystem, local habitat, and landscape occurs.
Pollution to the natural environment: Within construction, pollution to the environment happens in a number of ways. From sewage & waste from a construction site to pollution caused by the manufacturing of materials for a construction site - each activity poses a risk of introducing pollutants and potentially toxic materials to the local environment, workers on site, the neighbourhood, and the wildlife.
Land-use and conservation: Through construction and interaction with land-use the biodiversity of particular sites can be ruined. Quarrying operations can push traffic numbers up and even in completed developments the day to day use of new buildings or projects can severely harm a fragile local environment.
What is sustainable construction?
For the first time in human history, over half the world’s population now live in urban environments, urban environments that heavily rely on construction that drains resources and severely impact the surrounding environment. The problem is that it’s getting worse. Urban populations are growing the world over, requiring more and more from construction. There has never before been such a need to consider new ideas in the way we construct houses, shopping centres, roads, offices, car parks, train stations, and more.
Sustainable construction is all about utilising the latest in these ideas to create buildings that do little to no harm to the environment. The aim is to meet our present-day demands for infrastructure, housing, and places of work without compromising the environment for future generations. Sustainable development looks to take on three broad themes known as the ‘triple bottom line’. They are: environment, social, and economic accountability.
The payoff and the drawbacks
The benefits of sustainable construction are obvious, but one issue often cited is that of cost. Modern technologies, appliances, and methods often cost more money to use and implement. The reality, however, is that while the up-front cost is higher the overall life-cycle cost is significantly lower. Not to mention the broader advantages of reduced greenhouse gases. Studies have also found that productivity in workers operating within green buildings is higher - a cleaner, healthier, and brighter workspace makes a much happier workforce.
Overall sustainable development, when implemented correctly, can improve water efficiency, material efficiency, reduce waste, optimise maintenance operations, reduce the impact upon electricity networks, and minimise damage to the surrounding wildlife.
What’s the current state of sustainable construction?
Worldwide there are currently a number of organisations that have developed codes, rating systems, and standards. Governments can now use these codes and standards to help implement sustainable construction into their practices.
There are rating systems used within each country. For example, the UK has a system called BREEAM. The United States uses one named LEED and Spain, VERDE. These systems award credits for optional features of a building that support green initiatives such as water conservation or building materials.
What does the future hold?
Now we understand the importance of green & sustainable building, it’s time to look to its future. What trends could emerge? Which countries will embrace the technologies and skill-sets that sustainable buildings require? Whose technology could change the construction industry?
In the past few years we have seen a stronger increase in retrofit energy efficiency rather than energy efficient new-builds. This signifies that even in existing building sites we’re looking to adapt ourselves to help create a sustainable world. It also shows that there’s a better understanding than ever before that, in the long-run, sustainable buildings sap less energy, which in turn saves homeowners, businesses, and governments money.
We mentioned earlier the rating systems used around the world. As sustainable construction moves forward, the competition amongst such rating systems can only help move them forward. BREEAM, for example, isn’t just used within the UK, but is marketed across Western Europe, Mexico, and could soon enter use in the US.
As we start to really feel the impact of global warming it’s becoming clearer how important it is to implement greener methods. Because of this, governments the world over are putting the pressure on construction companies to implement greener methods and technology with every build. This, we hope, should help influence a rapid increase in sustainable builds in cities across the globe.
Shared with Sustain2Green by email.