Introduction to Sustainable Construction

As the largest industry in the world, accounting for 13% of global GDP, the construction industry has a massive environmental and social impact. The increasing awareness of climate change has pushed a global urgency for more sustainable practices globally, particularly in the construction industry. But what does it mean to build sustainably? In our guide, we walk through the varying definitions of sustainable construction, it’s importance, benefits, and challenges.

What is Sustainable Construction?

There are a wide range of definitions and even different terms applied to the concept of sustainable construction, from green building to sustainable design. 

Professor Charles J. Kibert defines sustainable construction as the practice of creating and operating ‘ a healthy built environment based on resource efficiency and ecological design with an emphasis on seven core principles across the building’s life cycle.’ The seven core principles include: reducing, reusing, recycling, protecting nature, eliminating toxic materials, applying life cycle costing, and high quality. 

If that definition is too restricting, Bendapudi and Gupta identifies the three core goals of sustainable construction as activities that attempt to:

  1. Reduce or eliminate the impacts of construction on the environment, natural resources and other non renewable sources and promote the overall sustainability of the constructed environment.
  2. Improve the health and productivity of occupants.
  3. Reduce construction to functioning costs and apply a lifecycle approach to the planning and development of construction projects.

Sustainable construction is not only about the building itself, but involves the broader implementation of sustainable philosophies throughout the entire asset lifecycle – from planning all the way to long-term maintenance. A prominent way of ensuring construction projects are sustainable is by implementing sustainable project management practices. We discuss the role and influence of sustainable project management in sustainable construction in our blog.

Why is Sustainable Construction important?

With global populations  growing and urbanization rapidly increasing, the demand for construction is only set to grow. But the industry, by its nature, is notorious for its impacts on the climate. 

Research shows that the construction industry accounts for a staggering 36% of worldwide energy use and a further 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Top this up with the fact that as much as 30% of all delivered building materials of a typical construction site ends up at waste. But it doesn’t stop there. While development and construction makes up a large portion of the carbon emissions within the industry, operational emissions of buildings and infrastructure ( for activities such as heating, cooling and lighting) account for 28% of total emissions within the industry

As the world actively moves towards a more sustainable future, the construction industry faces immense pressure to curb its unsustainable processes across all its activities, inputs, processes and practices. It isn’t legislation and business trends alone. Consumers are also pushing the change to more sustainable construction practices through active lobbying to government bodies. The construction industry needs to adapt, and it needs to do it fast. As an industry notorious for its slow adoption of new technologies and processes, construction companies could soon find themselves crumbling under the increasing demand of sustainable practices if they are not well prepared.

Benefits of Sustainable Construction

Moving towards more sustainable construction management is not just a moral pursuit, it brings many more economic, environmental and social benefits as well!

Sustainable construction increases the value of buildings

While people can often be turned off by the price tag of sustainable building, research shows that green buildings see an asset value increase of 7 percent over their traditional counterparts.

Sustainable buildings have lower operating costs

Sustainable construction often imbeds new technologies and techniques that have major energy savings. The European Commission estimates that the total savings on energy spending in sustainable buildings can be as big as €410 billion.

Sustainable construction practices significantly reduces waste

Market research suggests that annual construction waste is projected to reach 2.2 billion tons globally by 2025. That is a lot of resources, both environmentally and economically, that are simply being thrown into landfill. 

By introducing fundamental principles of reducing, reusing and recycling all materials and inputs throughout the construction project, the industry can make a significant impact on construction waste. Newer innovations are also on the rise that make accessibility to sustainable construction materials easier and more affordable.

Building sustainably is great CSR

Some may think, ‘It’s a building. How much PR can I get from that?’. In a time when consumers are becoming more vigilant and outspoken on construction companies cutting corners in attempts to save costs, building well-designed buildings that improve the quality of life and the wellbeing of its occupants and communities around it does not go unnoticed. In fact, building sustainably can sway consumer behaviors as research shows that 91% of consumers are likely to buy from a different company if it is associated with a good cause.

Sustainable buildings improve human health and productivity

Sustainable buildings often adapt a lot of plants into their interior design. Research shows that this increased contact with nature has distinct physiological and psychological impacts on humans that not only increase productivity, but also reduce absenteeism in the workplace. Additionally, some buildings go so far as to have onsite food farms through aquaponic systems that encourage healthier diets for their occupants. 

Barriers of Sustainable Construction

We all like the sound of more sustainable construction and would all love to reap the benefits listed above. But if it was so easy, we would not need to be here advocating about it cause everyone would already be doing it! Here are a few of the key barriers to sustainable construction.

Perceived affordability

The World Green Building report revealed that almost 40% of firms in the UK stated that affordability was the biggest barrier to adopting sustainable construction practices. While this may be the case initially, the long-term benefits from significant waste reduction, improved efficiencies and application of innovation technologies could mean significant cost savings down the line. 

Political and legislative constraints

Out of date building codes that still support traditional construction practices. For example, the tiny house movement has gained massive momentum as a sustainable housing and construction alternative that generates minimum waste but still faces many legal challenges, particularly in Australia, as they do not adhere to traditional and outdated building codes. 

Lack of experienced and well-trained workforce

Sustainability is a relatively up and coming field and there is still a minimal supply of professionals with experience and knowledge of sustainability practices in the construction industry. Though there are a few prominent certifications and assessment tools such as BREEAM and LEED currently available, it takes a skilled team to properly meet, implement and maintain all the required standards. 

Slow adoption of new innovation 

Even though it’s the largest industry in the world, a Mckinsey report shows that it is also one of the least digitized, only managing to inch past agriculture in its adoption of technology into its practices. Artificial intelligence is a critical technology that will help increase efficiencies through construction project planning, monitoring and execution. However, the  slow adoption of new technologies is estimated to have significantly negative impacts on productivity that translates to a lost economic opportunity of up to $1.6 trillion. 

Limited availability of sustainable construction resources

There are some amazingly innovative sustainable construction materials that are making their way into the market such as bricks made from recycled plastic that are stronger than concrete. However, many of these materials and resources are still limited in their supply and cannot be used in large-scale quantities. Though the market is growing rapidly, with the market expected to grow to $425.4 billion by 2027, the current limitations have made companies put sustainable sourcing in hold.

Start building sustainable construction projects with pmo365

Pmo365 has a rich history with the construction industry. In fact, our CEO started out as a civil engineer and he knew exactly how PPM system inefficiencies were leading to projects constantly running over schedule and over budget.

At pmo365, we are passionate about building the best solution that can help simplify all your construction project management needs, so you can focus on reaching your sustainability targets. If you want to know more about how we can help you build more sustainable construction projects, make sure to talk with our experts and they’ll show you how!

What is Sustainable Construction?

Professor Charles J. Kibert defines sustainable construction as the practice of creating and operating ‘ a healthy built environment based on resource efficiency and ecological design with an emphasis on seven core principles across the building’s life cycle.’ The seven core principles include: reducing, reusing, recycling, protecting nature, eliminating toxic materials, applying life cycle costing, and high quality.

Why is Sustainable Construction important?

With global populations  growing and urbanization rapidly increasing, the demand for construction is only set to grow. But the industry, by its nature, is notorious for its impacts on the climate. 

As the world actively moves towards a more sustainable future, the construction industry faces immense pressure to curb its unsustainable processes across all its activities, inputs, processes and practices. It isn’t legislation and business trends alone. Consumers are also pushing the change to more sustainable construction practices through active lobbying to government bodies. The construction industry needs to adapt, and it needs to do it fast. As an industry notorious for its slow adoption of new technologies and processes, construction companies could soon find themselves crumbling under the increasing demand of sustainable practices if they are not well prepared.

Benefits of Sustainable Construction

– Sustainable construction increases the value of buildings
– Sustainable buildings have lower operating costs
– Sustainable construction practices significantly reduces waste
– sustainable construction materials easier and more affordable.
– Building sustainably is great CSR
– Sustainable buildings improve human health and productivity

Barriers of Sustainable Construction

– Perceived affordability
– Political and legislative constraints
– Lack of experienced and well-trained workforce
– Slow adoption of new innovation 
– Limited availability of sustainable construction resources

Bill Allars

Bill Allars

Bill is a Business Development Manager with 20+ of experience in Project and Portfolio Management, Project Administration, Risk Management and Process Redevelopment.

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