Sustainable Construction: Builders Need to Go Green

Sustainable building practices are becoming increasingly common throughout the construction industry. This new emphasis on sustainable construction has created a robust green building and production network which is now one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.

To pave the way for future generations to live in harmony with the environment, it is critical that we incorporate sustainable building and distribution practices such as reducing waste, lowering emissions and sourcing from local eco-friendly providers. For those in the construction industry, this guide provides various sustainability strategies that can be applied to benefit both your businesses and the environment.

The Construction Industry’s Impact on the Environment

The construction industry is constantly at odds with sustainability as building is inherently damaging to the natural world. In order to limit the negative environmental impact, prudent businesses are seeking ways to address the top environmental issues in the construction industry:

  • Improper waste disposal and management with very little recycling
  • The overuse of scarce virgin materials, i.e. natural resources like timber, petroleum-based plastic resin and mined/processed metals
  • Long-distance sourcing of materials that contribute to extensive transportation emissions
  • Carbon emissions from operations, vehicles and material engineering

Reduce Waste and Use Recycled Materials

In the U.S., the construction industry produces around 600 million tons of waste annually. Though it is important to focus on proper disposal, limiting the waste created in the first place should be an essential practice. Such an approach will help reduce overall building project expenses by avoiding excess purchasing and disposal costs.

Finding ways to source construction materials such as recycled and reclaimed material is not only sustainable and innovative but often cost effective. For example, during times of high demand – like how the pandemic has caused lumber prices to skyrocket – reclaimed lumber provides a cheaper source of construction material that is viable and widely available. The market for reclaimed and repurposed materials is growing as more people value the added character and history behind these materials. In fact, there are now businesses solely dedicated to the sale of reclaimed materials. Including the sourcing and reselling of used materials in your waste management plan can greatly reduce net expenses.

Properly Dispose of Construction Waste

While it is important to limit the amount of waste from the start, waste in the construction industry is inevitable. Finding ways to properly dispose of this waste is not only good for the environment and public health but can also help construction companies financially. As landfill space is already depleting, disposal costs are beginning to increase. Recycling construction materials can help divert waste from landfills, thus saving your company money in disposal costs. Recycling can also potentially create employment and benefit the local community. An EPA REI report in 2021 showed that recycling of construction and demolition materials created 175,000 jobs.

For materials that cannot be recycled – paint, chemicals, wiring, insulation, etc. – contact your local collection facility to navigate how to properly dispose of these materials.

Source Locally From Sustainable Suppliers

Sourcing materials locally can support communities and foster closer relationships with local businesses that supply construction materials. Local sourcing will also reduce supply chain costs by minimizing transportation expenses. The U.S. currently sources 70% of its construction materials from international suppliers: China, Mexico and Canada. International shipping of construction materials not only contributes significant emissions to today’s warming world but it can also be more expensive than using local suppliers. Avoiding long-distance shipping improves project efficiency as local suppliers are able to deliver more quickly with fewer delays.

When partnering with local suppliers, ensure that they too are onboard with sustainability and follow environmentally sound and ethical practices.

Improve Energy Efficiency and Electrify Your Processes

Seeking opportunities to electrify building processes and incorporate clean energy can dramatically reduce the emissions that the construction industry generates. Not to mention transitioning from diesel equipment to electric and battery-operated can improve the health and safety of the work environment by lowering both noise and chemical pollutants. Electric equipment is often designed with smart technology thus improving operational efficiency and safety. Regulations on construction equipment emissions are beginning to ramp up, and being ahead of the curve makes good financial sense.

While some of the heavy equipment required for large construction projects is still necessarily reliant on diesel and gasoline, there are many other ways to electrify your business. Simple changes include investing in electric power tools and transitioning company vehicles to electric or hybrid-electric. As innovation in battery technology has greatly improved in the past decade, going electric in the construction industry is becoming increasingly feasible.

And don’t forget that adopting energy and water conservation practices within your office counts too, such as switching to energy-saving appliances and LEDs and improving energy use habits.

Leverage Green Building Standards – LEED, WELL, BREEAM

Understanding the criteria for constructing a sustainable home or building is becoming an increasingly valuable skill and should be a part of every construction company’s repertoire. Applying building standards such as LEED, WELL and BREEAM ensures you are creating the greenest buildings and is a direct reflection of your sustainability commitment. Not only is this good for marketability purposes – as more home buyers and business owners are concerned about the planet – but more energy efficient buildings can help owners and tenants save money.

In addition to building certifications, there are many low-cost ways to target energy efficiency. Small steps, such as improving a building’s envelope or installing LED lights, can lead to massive energy savings. Constructing buildings with specific sustainability standards in mind will improve energy efficiency and the long-term performance of the building.

Increase Transparency

Transparency within the construction industry is often overlooked but it is a central part of being a trustworthy green business. Sharing your sustainability progress, goals and motives with your stakeholders demonstrates that you hold yourself accountable and are dedicated to doing good. This strengthens stakeholder relationships and enhances your brand among the competition. Providing clearer information and data can also improve business efficiency as every stakeholder will be able to make more informed decisions.

Business Benefits of Sustainable Construction and Being An Eco-friendly Builder

Construction companies operating sustainably will earn many benefits from greening their operations:

  • Enhance your reputation and the marketability of your business by demonstrating your commitment to sustainability.
  • Attract new customers seeking construction companies specialized in eco-friendly homes and buildings.
  • Stimulate the local economy by sourcing from local companies and strengthening your community relationships.
  • Lower your impact on the environment and public health through minimizing carbon emissions, noise pollution and landfill waste.
  • Discover cost savings through energy efficiency, better waste management and recycling, and local sourcing.

The Future of the Sustainable Construction Industry

From government buildings and private offices to sports stadiums and homes, green building practices are starting to be applied across all types of construction. As energy and resource intensive as the construction industry is, it is in a unique position to show the immense positive impact that green building has on people and the planet.

Sustainable construction lowers its impact on the environment while also nourishing local economies and creating healthier, efficient buildings. Though the short-term changes required to transition to greener, cleaner operations require adequate time and careful planning, the long-term value from these initiatives are well worth the effort. Builders win. Building owners win. The planet wins. We all win.

About The Author

Peter Louthan

GBB Green Ambassador

Peter Louthan is a content writer for Green Business Bureau who is interested in how the private sector can generate value from sustainable business practice. Currently he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Energy and is eager to learn how emerging technologies in this field can help transition the world towards cleaner energy and lower the dependency on fossil fuels. Outside of academia, Peter enjoys hiking and the outdoors as well as watching soccer with his friends.

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