Over the next two decades an area more than three times the size of the United States’ entire built environment is expected to be redesigned and rebuilt globally. As daunting as that amount of work sounds, the construction industry has a chance to make responsible choices, choosing materials, design elements, and transportation methods with an eye toward sustainability.
While these changes will take time, and in some cases come with a greater monetary cost, the trade-off will be a cleaner, greener built environment as the global population is set to sharply rise over the coming decades.
Here are five ways the construction industry can make an impact by making projects more sustainable.
Reduce Fuel Consumption
Between the fume-belching heavy machinery and the massive diesel-powered trucks that bring materials and equipment to and from the construction site, a lot of fuel is consumed during the course of a project. The burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas is a notorious contributor to climate change, so any reduction in the amount used would have a positive environmental impact.
There is a multitude of hybrid gas-electric equivalents available for most types of heavy machinery, some even only burn electricity. Making the switch is not as outlandish as you might think. Volvo CE made news last year by announcing it would discontinue the development of its compact wheel loaders and excavators powered by diesel engines and sell electric versions instead. It was the first construction equipment manufacturer to make such a move.
Hybrid or electric vehicles cost more than their internal-combustion counterparts, but the savings on fuel will chip away at the price difference as soon as they’re put to work.
Environmentally Conscious Building Design
The first opportunity to make a better choice for the planet comes in the building design phase. Here there are many options for incorporating sustainability, from choosing recycled or natural building materials that generate less CO2 to produce, to including features like solar panels, to opting for windows placement that maximizes the amount of natural light a building gets.
Adding smart appliances like thermostats or HVAC systems can dramatically reduce a building’s energy consumption. Another thing to consider is extending a building’s lifespan. The longer a building can stand in use, the less greenhouse gasses are emitted from demolition, cleanup, and rebuilding.
Better Waste Disposal Methods
Construction work will always produce some waste, but looking at just how much waste the industry produces is eye-opening. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), construction and engineering produce as much as 530 million tons of waste each year, most of which ends up in a landfill. Demolition accounts for approximately 90% of the waste.
Construction companies can start to reduce that number by boosting efforts to reuse and recycle as much waste material as possible. For instance, concrete and steel have plenty of useful life in them after demolition.
Cutting Noise Pollution
It may not contribute to global warming, but noise pollution is very real and can be very annoying. Firms can limit the amount of excess noise their projects emit by restricting the use of heavy machinery to daylight hours, minimizing times engines spend idling, or upgrading their machinery to quieter, more fuel-efficient models.
With urban sprawl expected to increase exponentially in the years ahead, projects will be done in tighter and tighter quarters. With a little forethought and planning, it’s possible to reduce the sound emanating even from active construction sites. Anyone working or living nearby will certainly be thankful.
Sustainable Building Materials
By relying more frequently on building materials produced sustainably, structures themselves will be more eco-friendly during their entire lifecycle. Recycled materials are readily available, and much can be reused. This both keeps debris out of the waste stream and makes demolition itself a more sustainable practice. Every ton of steel that’s recycled saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone.
Builders can also seek out suppliers whose production methods are more sustainable, or who make a conscious effort to reduce their own emissions. This not only rewards companies doing their part for the planet but ensures reduced carbon production throughout the supply chain.
Construction has a reputation as a major polluter, but with a few small changes (or even one big change), the industry can turn that ignominious distinction around.