Sustainable building is an eco-friendly approach that prioritizes creating buildings in a way that lessens their environmental impact and improves the overall health of our planet and the people on it. The benefits of sustainable construction are plenty.
The most sustainable building method is using eco-friendly materials and prefabricating them in controlled environments. This method reduces waste and the energy required to construct a building.
Everyone must do what they can to lessen their carbon footprint, and one of the most influential industries in this regard is the construction industry. The rest of this article explains what sustainable building is, the various techniques used, and the benefits of this approach to building.
Why Current Building Methods Are Not Sustainable
One of the biggest and most environmentally harmful problems in construction is waste, because either the materials aren’t cut precisely, or the materials are cut in conditions that change their shape, such as extremely hot or extremely cold weather.
If these materials are cut in a controlled environment, the conditions that may change their shape are avoided, eliminating the need to redo certain parts of the project and wasting material.
Another reason why current building methods are not sustainable is that they don’t use more eco-friendly materials. Materials manufactured locally and from recycled products are better for the environment than other construction materials.
Locally-sourced materials are better for the environment because they don’t have to travel far, reducing the energy required for transportation.
Additionally, materials with low embodied energy are less harmful than materials that require a lot of energy for extraction. Embodied energy refers to the factors that contribute to a certain material’s sustainability, and encompasses everything the material requires throughout its life in all stages, including:
When current building methods don’t use these types of materials, they are unsustainable and can harm the environment.
Current building methods also don’t use eco-friendly materials, which can create issues later down the road. When using sustainable building methods, it’s important to focus on those that are appropriate for the climate they’ll be used in.
If a material doesn’t hold up well in its environment, it’ll need to be replaced often, using more energy and resources. Eco-friendly material is one that can endure in its climate and last a long time.
Sustainable Buiding Methods Use Eco-Friendly Materials
An essential part of sustainable construction is using eco-friendly materials. Here are some of the best materials for sustainable building:
- Bamboo: Bamboo is one of the most environmentally sustainable building materials on the planet. Some bamboo species can grow up to 3’ (0.91 m) in just 24 hours, so they self-generate at a fast rate and on every continent except Europe and Antarctica. It’s also durable and has greater compressive strength than brick and concrete. Finally, it’s lightweight, which results in less energy required for transportation.
- Recycled steel: Using steel that’s already in existence saves 75% of energy costs, and recycled steel doesn’t lose any of its original properties. Reclaimed steel from six cars can build a 2,000 sq ft (185.8 sq m) home.
- Cob: Cob is a mix of subsoil, water, and straw that’s easy to use and creates natural insulation. Most cob houses require no heating, which saves energy.;
- Cork: Cork is a tree bark that can be harvested from a living tree that can continue to produce the material. It’s resistant to wear, making it a great material for floor tiles, and absorbs noise well, making it a good choice for insulation sheets. It’s mostly in the Mediterranean, so the energy required for transportation isn’t ideal, but like bamboo, it’s lightweight, reducing the energy needed for shipping.
- Sheep’s wool: Sheep’s wool can be used for insulation instead of fiberglass or polyurethane spray foam. Wool regenerates quickly and can be harvested easily, and it doesn’t degrade quickly.
- Reclaimed or recycled wood: Recycling or reclaiming wood has a much lower impact than harvesting new wood, and it can be aesthetically pleasing, especially for natural-looking floors, beams, and doors.
- Straw: You can put straw bales in walls, attics, and ceilings to stabilize temperature, and it can be harvested with minimal environmental impact. If the straw is sourced from farmers, the carbon emission from burning the straw is avoided. The straw that’s compressed and made into ceiling and wall panels is also recyclable and biodegradable.
- Ferrock: Ferrock is an iron-rich rock that’s made from recycled materials and is typically used instead of cement. It’s a hard and resilient material, so it won’t need to be replaced frequently. It’s 10-25% lighter than brick, so the energy needed to transport this material is less than comparable materials.
- Mycelium: Mycelium is the part of fungi that grows underneath the ground. Once it’s dried, it can be used for building, usually replacing foam, timber, and plastics. It’s especially useful for insulation and door cores.
- Timbercrete: Timbercrete is made of a mix of sawdust and concrete. Sawdust is used instead of the components in concrete that require the most energy to produce, making it more eco-friendly than typical concrete. It’s also more lightweight than concrete, which requires less energy for transportation.
Using these materials instead of their less eco-friendly alternatives is essential for sustainable construction and a great step towards better building practices industry-wide.
What Is Sustainable Construction?
Sustainable construction refers to the practice of reducing the construction industry’s impact on the environment by utilizing sustainable building methods and green technology. The primary goal of sustainable construction is to reduce environmental impact.
The construction industry uses a large number of materials and energy, so construction companies can make a significant impact by changing how they build and with what. The main advantage of sustainable construction is the reduction of practices that are harmful to the environment.;
However, there are some other benefits of sustainable construction:
- Better mental health: Green buildings have many psychological benefits to the people who live or work inside them, including promoting better mental health by reducing seasonal affective disorder.
- Boosts the economy: Sustainable construction increases the demand for labor, which provides more jobs. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the sustainable construction industry generated $134.3 billion of labor income and 2.3 million jobs for workers in 2015.
- Improved physical health: Using sustainable materials can help purify the air inside buildings, which is beneficial to the health of those spending a lot of time inside the building.
- Reduced waste: The construction industry is responsible for as much as 34.7% of total waste. Using sustainable building methods lessens the amount of waste created.
- Lower maintenance costs: Sustainable buildings have design elements that reduce the costs of water and energy. Furthermore, eco-friendly materials are often more durable than comparable alternatives, reducing the financial cost of frequent replacement.
The benefits of sustainable construction are plentiful, varied, and meaningful. It’s to the advantage of everyone and the planet to build more sustainably.
Other Sustainable Building Methods
Because many organizations recognize the value of sustainable building methods, there have been various new advances and practices introduced in the industry. Let’s discuss some of these methods.
Synthetic Roof Underlayment
The underlayment on roofs has traditionally been asphalt-based, but asphalt breaks down quickly and has to be replaced frequently. Synthetic roof underlayment weighs less and is more durable, and it’s made with polymer created from recycled scrap materials.
Green roofs are made with a material that supports the growth of grass, plants, and other greenery. This isn’t only aesthetically pleasing, but also beneficial for the building. The green roof reduces heating and cooling costs and improves air quality.
Buildings utilizing the passive solar concept work with the sun’s energy to warm the building in the winter and block the sun in the summer, reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling. It can also help with your energy costs, which means you should have lower utility bills.
Structural 3D Printing and Just-In-Time Production
Structural 3D printing reduces the environmental costs of moving building materials to a site.
Just-In-Time (JIT) production is a practice that calls for the production of materials when the customer wants them and in the quantity requested, instead of ordering large stocks of materials. This eliminates waste, overproduction, and the cost of storage.
Construction Management Software
Construction management software replaces paper plans and files and updates in real-time, so everyone is working from the correct plan, reducing the possibility of mistakes and waste. This is sustainable, as it reduces the need to cut down more trees to make paper.
Greywater systems use greywater for irrigation. Greywater reuse increases drinking water supply and decreases wastewater utility bills. The more these methods are used in construction, the healthier the planet and everyone on it’ll be.
What Is LEED?
LEED is the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership and Environmental Design rating system for evaluating the environmental performance of buildings’ design, construction, and operation. LEED certification can lead to tax credits, reduced fees, expedited permits, and zoning allowances.
Even though a council in the United States developed it, the program is used worldwide to help building owners, operators, and contractors to be environmentally responsible. Furthermore, for-rent LEED office spaces have higher rental rates and occupancy.
Building contractors can use LEED guidelines to design and construct a more environmentally responsible building.
Still, something to consider is that pursuing a LEED rating often increases the cost of initial design and construction. Additional costs are associated with LEED design consultants and USGBC correspondence.
The LEED rating system is grouped into five categories:
- Building design and construction
- Interior design and construction
- Operations and maintenance
- Neighborhood development
Additionally, there are four levels of LEED certification:
- LEED Certified: 40-49 points
- Silver: 50-59 points
- Gold: 60-70 points
- Platinum: 80 and above points
LEED Platinum buildings are considered the most environmentally sustainable buildings globally and are highly regarded in architecture and construction communities.
Examples of Sustainable Construction Companies
For those who doubt the possibility of creating durable and beautiful buildings sustainably and making a profit doing so, here are some of the best construction companies who are leading the charge on sustainability:
- Turner Corp: The Turner Construction Company made a 2030 commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption by 50%. The staff is challenged to stay knowledgeable about sustainability and green rating systems. Their biggest project was the Weed Army Community Hospital in Fort Irwin, California, which is the only LEED Platinum, net-zero hospital.
- Holder Construction: Holder emphasizes pre-planning and thoughtful purchasing choices to avoid waste and is committed to using recyclable materials. Their high-rise office building in Phoenix, Arizona, called Camelback Phase II, is LEED Gold certified.
- Clark Construction: Clark guides their clients throughout the decision-making process, so the best and most environmentally conscious choices are made. The company built the Park Tower at Transbay, certified LEED Gold.;
- Lendlease: Lendlease reduced its energy usage, water consumption, and waste levels by 20% between 2014 and 2020. They make efforts to manage demolition waste better and to reduce pollution. They’re behind the Jerome L. Greene Science Center and Lenfest Center for the Arts at Columbia University, which is LEED Gold certified.
- Walsh Group: Walsh offers internal training to encourage all employees to earn LEED Green Associate certification, including interns. The company also encourages workshops and lunch-and-learn programs that foster collaboration between architects and engineers. They converted a warehouse into their headquarters, which is LEED Platinum.
- AECOM: AECOM was behind the world’s first high-rise to get LEED Platinum certification, which is the One Bryant Park office tower in New York City. The high-rise has a cogeneration plant, greywater systems, and green roofs. AECOM emphasizes collaboration from the outset, so everyone involved can contribute to the success of a building.
Overall, the best sustainable building method is using eco-friendly building materials and measuring and cutting them in a controlled environment to reduce waste.
However, there are many sustainable building methods that are all beneficial not only to the environment but also to the human population and the economy. The construction industry can make a big and important difference with these methods.
- For Construction Pros: 5 Techniques for Sustainable Building Construction
- Smart Cities Dive: 5 of the World’s Most Eco-Friendly Building Materials
- Broadsword: The 7 Best Eco-Friendly Materials for Building
- Barbulianno: 18 Eco-Friendly Building Materials That Help You Save Energy and the Earth
- Big Rentz: The Psychological Benefits of Green Buildings
- U.S. Green Building Council: New Study Finds Green Construction is a Major U.S. Economic Driver
- Construction Executive: Ten Benefits of Sustainable Construction
- Fieldware: Best Practices for Sustainable Construction
- EPA: US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®)
- RTS: What is LEED Certification?
- Construction Dive: 10 Contractors Profiting from Sustainable Building
- Beachapedia: Graywater Systems