The construction industry’s environmental impact is huge. In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the EPA.
Sustainable construction practices use green building construction methods that are energy efficient and ecofriendly to reduce environmental impact. Not only does sustainable building benefit the environment by conserving natural resources, it can also benefit your bottom line.
What is Sustainable Construction?
“Sustainable” is defined by Merriam-Webster as a method of using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. When it comes to sustainable construction, it means practicing building techniques that embrace long-term environmental protection by efficiently using resources, minimizing waste and emissions, and protecting the health as well as improving the productivity of workers.
Sustainable construction expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability and comfort, according to the EPA. Green building methods can be integrated into buildings at any stage, from design and construction to renovation and deconstruction.
9 Benefits to Sustainable Construction
There are three main benefits that sustainable construction provides: environmental, economic and social.
- Improved Air and Water Quality. Sustainable building ensures appropriate ventilation and moisture control and avoids the use of materials with high-Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions. These practices enhance indoor air quality. Waste management procedures prevent polluted water from draining into water sources.
- Less Waste. Many building materials— such as coal combustion products, foundry sand and construction and demolition debris—can be recycled, according to the EPA. Landscaping can be designed to preserve natural resources and prevent waste and pollution.
- Conserved Natural Resources. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, sustainable building is designed and operated to use and reuse materials in the most productive and sustainable way. Ecofriendly materials minimize life-cycle environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion and toxicity.
- Reduced Costs. According to Construction Executive, a green building costs less than a normal building because fewer resources, such as water and energy, are required to complete the project. Because less waste occurs, disposal costs are also reduced.
- Increased Profitability. Green building is an emerging market that produces a better ROI on sustainable construction projects. Simply put, more consumers want to live in ecofriendly environments. The EPA has shared that green living spaces are coveted because money is saved over the life of the building through lower operating costs.
- Increased Efficiency. A key method to sustainable construction is using materials built off-site in climate-controlled environments, also known as modular building. This process reduces the amount of on-site work, allowing projects to be completed faster.
- Improved Health. Buildings constructed with less waste and lower toxins contribute to an overall healthier living environment.
- Minimized Strain on Local Infrastructure. As green building uses fewer resources, the impact on local energy, water and waste agencies is reduced.
- Better Quality of Life. Construction Executive discusses that the advantages of sustainable construction, including the use of safer materials, increased productivity and effective noise protection, and improved overall life quality.
Top Sustainable Technologies in Green Construction
Construction Climate Challenge shares that the top sustainable technologies in green construction are:
- Solar power. Using solar power can be active or passive. An active use is installing solar panels that provide electric power, reducing utility bills. Passive solar power includes designing homes and buildings with windows that naturally provide light and warmth.
- Biodegradable materials. Eco-friendly biodegradable building materials naturally break down, reducing landfill use. Examples include bamboo, wooden shingles, bioplastics and pouring concrete in patterns that allow for drainage.
- Green insulation. Eco-friendly insulation products can provide excellent ROI while reducing environmental impact. Cellulose (newspaper), cotton (denim) and sheep’s wool are all types of green insulation.
- Smart appliances. SmartGrid appliances go beyond Energy Star appliances (which reduce energy use) by integrating with local energy providers. For example, SmartGrid appliances have meters that deliver signals from energy providers to cut energy costs. Smart meters also provide utilities with greater information about how much electricity is being used throughout their service areas.
- Cool roofs. Cool roofs utilize building materials that reflect heat and sunlight to help maintain inside temperatures. According to the EPA, cool roofs absorb less heat and stay up to 50 to 60 degrees cooler than conventional materials during peak summer weather.
- Sustainable resource sourcing. Sustainable resources are re-manufactured, recycled, recyclable and obtained from sustainable sources, according to Construction Climate Challenge.
- Low-energy house and Zero-energy building design. Zero energy homes are designed to be air-tight, well insulated and energy-efficient in order to produce as much renewable energy as they consume over the course of a year.
- Electrochromic Smart Glass. Electrochromic glass or smart glass reflects or shuts out solar radiation. It is electronically tintable so it can be controlled by building occupants to maximize daylight or reduce harsh glare.
- Water efficiency technologies. Several building strategies are available to save water and associated energy consumption. These include installing water-efficient plumbing fixtures (ultra-low-flow toilets and low-flow showerheads), irrigation and landscaping measures (low-flow sprinkler heads and irrigation control systems), and water recycling like grey water and process recycling systems.
- Sustainable indoor environment technologies. Technologies such as this include using eco-friendly and sustainable materials indoors like nontoxic flooring, paint and insulation.
- Self-powered buildings. Building on zero energy construction processes, self-powered buildings create enough energy throughout the year to either completely support the occupants’ energy needs or create a surplus. Wind power is a self-powered technology that’s applicable to both buildings and homes.
- Rammed Earth Brick. These bricks are based on ancient construction technology. Today, rammed earth bricks are comprised of compressed clay soil and cement. Materials used are sustainably sourced.
Sustainable Building Best Practices & Tactics
- Incorporate as many green building materials and technologies as possible. While budgets may not always allow for self-powered buildings or smart glass, any project can easily make use of passive solar power, low-flow toilets and bamboo flooring. Strive to utilize eco-friendly materials from sustainable sources. The EPA offers recommendations for purchasing green materials. For example, choose wood products that are certified sustainable or locally harvested, salvaged or reclaimed. Consider working with manufacturers that offer take-back or recycling options.
- Take care to only order the amount you need. According to the Project Management Institute, Just in Time construction is a concept that relies on completing projects on time without any unnecessarily scheduled improvements. The customer gets what they want, when they want it, in the amount requested. To make sure nothing is wasted, initial resource allocation is based on minimum overtime with extra resources added only when it is necessary to meet the completion date.
- Utilize prefabricated materials. Materials manufactured in factories produce less waste. When manufactured indoors, any extra materials can be recycled. Prefabricated materials also save time as they come ready-to-assemble, are precisely cut and eliminate warping problems due to cold or heat. Prefabrication ensures everything fits, with better insulation and increased energy efficiency, according to Construction World.
- Ditch paper processes. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, the construction industry is one of the least digitized. Paper is used for planning, communication, scheduling and payroll. Switching to digital processes can eliminate paper-use in nearly every area. Consider how much paper, ink and power is used to print proposals and reports or for time and attendance collection. Paper uses several resources to produce from the trees to the water and energy required for the pulping process. Plus you’ll save on paper costs by utilizing apps that can digitize these processes.
ExakTime’s Time Clock App eliminates the need for paper time cards. Workers use their own devices, with minimal data usage, to easily clock in and out. Recorded times are uploaded directly into your payroll system.
ExakTime ensures compliance by allowing workers to review their total hours worked, including overtime, and sign off their time. Paper schedules also become obsolete as the app lets admins and project managers set up single and recurring shifts. Workers see the date, location, time range and cost code for their upcoming shift, and can clock in with the click of a button—keeping them organized and accountable for the time that’s on your dime. The app also has built-in security features, like GPS tracking and photo ID verification—so you always know where your employees are and are certain no one else punched in for them.