Green building is a current trend in the construction industry, and businesses may want to adopt the initiative and contribute positively to the environment. This article examines the steps companies can follow to incorporate sustainability in construction.
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The construction industry is one of the biggest contributors to Australia’s annual 76 million tonnes of waste, producing around 12 million tonnes yearly. As industries, governments and businesses worldwide pledge to combat their carbon emissions and incorporate climate change strategies, the construction industry has begun adopting green practices, such as using less water and sourcing sustainable materials.
Going green advances environmental protection but can also help construction companies improve their reputation and attract new environmentally-conscious customers. Technology adoption is also crucial within the industry, as it can lead to more efficient and effective construction processes. But where do businesses start when adopting sustainability in construction?
What is sustainable construction?
Sustainable construction uses recyclable and renewable materials to enhance the environment and lifespan of a building. Sustainable construction projects aim to minimise energy consumption, reduce waste, and improve construction efficiency. Sustainability in construction is vital for many reasons, as, for example, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves natural resources.
What are the benefits of sustainability in construction?
The benefits of sustainable construction fit into three categories:
- Environmental: Using renewable energy and building materials can positively influence the climate and ecosystem. Green building decreases energy sources that pollute the environment, such as coal and carbon dioxide. It also enriches natural water reserves and enhances air and water quality.
- Financial: Using sustainable materials may be more expensive, but doing so adds more value to a green building than a traditional one. Tenants or households are also likely to save on bills and utilities.
- Social: A good indoor environment protects the people who use the building from serious illnesses induced by inhaling toxic substances. Sustainable construction can also strengthen employee productivity due to better surroundings, work environment and noise protection.
The conscious consumer is also something that construction companies need to keep in mind. A previous survey by Capterra found that 61% of Australian consumers said the sustainability actions of a company heavily influence their purchasing decisions. A further 70% of consumers also believe the price of sustainable products is fair, which shows they are willing to pay for quality materials.
How can sustainability be used in construction?
There are many ways for construction companies to adopt green initiatives. The following construction techniques can help businesses be more sustainable:
1. Recycle or reuse construction materials
Construction and demolition waste can be turned into reusable building materials made from leftover aggregates, cardboard, concrete, metals and wood. Reusing leftover or repurposed building elements, such as wooden beams from the previous building on-site, is cost-effective for businesses and helps reduce the environmental impact of construction. Recycling means companies can save money on new materials, transportation and disposal and landfill fees.
2. Investigate sustainable construction materials
Sustainable construction materials are widely available, as more manufacturers are producing materials with low environmental impact. Project managers can research local suppliers, choose at least one sustainable material and begin implementing its usage within six months. Sourcing local materials also minimises transport emissions.
Sustainable construction materials to consider include:
- Mud bricks
- Wool bricks
- Straw bales
Builders will need to find a certified supplier, which can be done by assessing the materials’ product certification. For example, Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) is an eco-label that identifies and certifies environmentally friendly sound products. GECA has helped many Australian businesses, including building and interior design manufacturers, obtain certification.
3. Ensure your company has green certification
Green certification can help with company brand awareness and increase market visibility and property value. There are a variety of certifications to choose from, and it is recommended to compare and evaluate the different programs available.
For example, The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) manages the Green Star certification, where a building, fit-out, or precinct is awarded a rating by a third-party assessor. Green Star Buildings must receive certification within two years from the practical completion of the project.
Benefits of green building certification include:
- Higher rental rates: Green buildings can be more desirable than traditional properties due to their commitment to occupant health. Due to higher demand, owners can charge higher rental premiums and offset project costs.
- Streamlined compliance: Buildings in Victoria must adhere to the new energy efficiency requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCOA). The aim is to reduce the environmental impacts of energy and water consumption. Without being prepared to meet these local standards, projects may face delays and added costs. Pursuing green building certification will ensure companies adhere to state mandates, and compliance tools can help monitor and ensure these regulations are met.
- Certification requires objective data: Collating the information required as part of the certification criteria —material data sheets, energy bills, simulation reports, and building inspection photos— ensures properties really do meet green certification standards. Data management tools can help companies store and manage a large information set.
4. Turn your construction site green
Green building is important, but so is transforming the construction site to include the best environmentally-friendly job-site practices. For example, using LED temporary lighting can reduce the electricity required for the project. Other best practices include providing team members with compostable utensils and plates and a compost bin. Workers can also share car rides to and from the work site. Implementing these practices is not expensive and can help to create a green team and reduce the carbon footprint of the construction site.
5. Use technology and equipment for efficiency
Construction technology can help companies to build more sustainably. Using tools like Building Information Modelling (BIM) can help create and design thorough ecological building structures. BIM can be used in four aspects; land, water, energy and material. It can simulate the progress of the construction process and monitor the energy consumption and use of materials at different project stages.
The significant benefits of BIM in the design and construction process include:
- Saving on costs and resources
- Efficient and shorter project lifecycles
- Improved coordination and team communication
- Detection of potential sites hazards, delays, or design mistakes
As there is a lot to juggle in construction, tools can also help to mitigate and manage any project risks, by tracking incidents, monitoring performance and can promote compliance.
Conclusion: Is sustainable construction possible?
Sustainable construction is possible by implementing small measures at a time. Trialling a new type of sustainable building material doesn’t have to be expensive, for example, but it’s a step in the right direction towards going green. The benefits of sustainability in construction outweigh the disadvantages, as green buildings typically use less energy, resulting in lower utility costs for homeowners. Green buildings also reduce construction costs, thanks to the aid of construction technology. This can help project managers to plan better and monitor productivity, compliance and overall efficiency.
Some construction companies may not have yet opted to implement sustainable projects if they are concerned about the potential challenges. These may include concerns over higher initial costs, delays, and sourcing sustainable construction materials. But green buildings can help reduce carbon footprints and positively impact the environment. This makes them vital for the future of the construction industry and the well-being of the planet.