Sustainable construction is a strategic development that works to minimize the environmental impact of construction projects and rallies projects that support local communities and employees.
Construction and buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon emissions globally. This statistic puts the industry in the spotlight and reveals the unsustainable nature of organizations operating in this sector.
With other industries clamping down on their emission levels – a move that’s backed by governments and regulatory bodies across the globe – it’s important the construction industry follows suit. With this in mind, a report by the World Green Building Council set a goal to have every building in the world achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
These are lofty ambitions, and begs the question: What can those in the construction industry change to make sure they meet these targets?
In this Green Business Bureau article we present 6 key developments to help you establish a sustainable construction strategy. These developments focus on the most pressing sustainability challenges the industry faces, that is, carbon footprint reduction and the ethical sourcing of materials.
Yet, we ask you to keep in mind that sustainable construction is by no means limited to the initiatives presented in this article. Sustainability is complex. It’s important you note other factors such as habitat destruction, resource exploitation, pollution and waste, community engagement, and economic prosperity when developing an effective sustainability program. Green Business Certification with the Green Business Bureau platform will help you here..
6 initiatives to kick-start your sustainable construction program
Below we give 6 initiatives to lay the foundation of your sustainable construction strategy. These initiatives will help you reduce business emissions and ethically source materials. From here, you can expand your sustainability strategy to address other aspects of your business that cause damage to the environmental and social systems within which they operate.
Reduce business emissions across your value chain
Adopting a more sustainable working method isn’t something that can be done overnight. Construction companies will have contracts with suppliers and clients that must be honored, meaning it’s important you adopt a progressive approach with long-term planning at its core.
Every process must be considered from start to finish, from the energy required for the groundwork to the finishing touches such as LED lights and smart meters. You must work with the contractors and developers involved to ensure emissions across your value chain (scope 3 emissions) are cut to a minimum. It must be noted that it’s hard to reduce scope 3 emissions as these will lie outside the control of your business. In these instances, you’ll want to invest in carbon offset projects to mitigate your impact with the aim of achieving net zero.
For more information on the above, refer to the following articles:
- GHG Protocol: Scope 3 Emissions Explained
- Carbon Offsets vs Carbon Credits: The 5 Rules of Carbon Offsetting.
- How To Buy Carbon Offsets: 6 Certified and Vetted Options.
For construction companies, the change will take time but it’s important to switch to suppliers that are already committed to sourcing sustainable building materials, redesigning processes and methods with sustainability in mind, and working to reduce their carbon footprint. Ideally, they will already operate on a carbon-neutral basis, but partnering with a company that’s pledged to use such materials and processes may be a more viable option for most.
Design efficient buildings built to last
It’s not only the act of construction that significantly contributes to the global emissions created by the industry, but also the buildings themselves. For that reason, it’s essential your buildings are sustainable by design.
It’s all well and good using sustainable materials, but if the result is poor insulation due to bad design, then this will defeat the purpose of using such energy-efficient materials in the first place.
You can utilize tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) to encourage intelligent building design. With BIM you can create smart 5D designs. These designs are developed to render the need to retrofit buildings as they will be completely efficient and fit for purpose from the get-go.
Also, look to design and certify businesses in accordance with the LEED certification scheme. To find out more about LEED Certifcation, read: LEED Certification Checklist for Building Design and Construction (BD+C).
With more informed decisions being made across the design, build, utilization processes, and heating and cooling equipment, the lifespan of buildings will be greatly improved.
Embrace a circular economy
A top reason as to why the construction industry contributes so significantly towards emissions is due to its “take, make, waste” attitude. This is arguably by design as most people or property management companies want newer and cheaper materials to reduce their overall build costs.
But, like many industries, there’s potential for the construction industry to embrace a circular economic style of operations. That is, waste is reduced as discarded materials are reused. Following the lead of other industries that are adopting a circular economy will help the construction industry reduce its impact on the environment.
Rachel Thompson, former Head of Sustainability at London’s Gatwick Airport explains:
“Circular businesses are directly involved in the shift away from over-using natural resources in a “take-make-waste” economy, to adopt a circular system where waste and pollution are avoided and ultimately eliminated. Nature is being depleted and polluted at a completely unsustainable rate and basic recycling is not a sufficient response; we need to reuse what has already been made and replenish nature rather than depleting it.” – Rachel Thompson, Head of Sustainability at London Gatwick Airport
Many techniques related to circular construction have been developed already but are currently only deployed on a small scale. Be that creating bricks from construction waste or using more sustainable building materials, now it’s time for local and governmental-level construction projects to do the same.
Ethically source materials
Sustainability rightly focuses on the impact of emissions on our planet, yet it’s not the only consideration to make when establishing a sustainability strategy. Sourcing materials ethically is not only a responsible thing to do, but companies will find that more and more of their customers will demand ethically sourced materials.
For example, in the US, 56% of consumers will stop buying from brands they believe to be unethical, and over 35% of consumers stop buying from brands they deem unethical even if there’s a substitute available. With consumers making better-informed decisions regarding their purchasing behavior, businesses across all industries must respond to these demands.
An open and honest supply chain is one-way construction companies can set themselves apart from the competition and fortify their sustainability strategy. Companies that provide evidence they are practicing what they preach in terms of sustainability find themselves looked upon more favorably by potential clients.
Reduce emissions from the transportation of business goods
Transporting large and bulky goods around the world, commonly by sea and then followed by a haulage company, releases a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. You can reduce emissions associated with your business by firstly sourcing materials locally. You can then switch to use an electric haulage system to reduce transpotation-related emissions.
Next, look to be more efficient with delivery routing and scheduling. Whether you’re using intelligent route optimization tools to minimize fuel usage, or coordinating deliveries to ensure multiple pickups while also avoiding running empty trucks, there are a range of more efficient logistic solutions available to construction companies.
Redevelop rather than rebuild
In an ideal world, there would be no need to redevelop or retrofit a building to improve its energy efficiency, but unfortunately we don’t live in utopia. While construction companies can take care to design their latest building projects to be as energy efficient as possible, there remains a demand to improve those structures already built.
“Repositioning and refurbishing existing buildings to meet the evolving needs of society and the economy allows us to reuse building materials and historic site work, which can reduce emissions significantly when compared with a new build.” – Loral Brill, Head of Responsibility and ESG at asset management firm Orchard Street
Being able to repurpose existing buildings significantly cuts down the construction industry’s emissions. Embracing this approach to new construction projects can go a long way to preserving resources and giving a new lease of life to existing buildings, not only improving the environment but also regenerating the communities these buildings sit within.
Sustainable construction needs the guidance and approval of green business certification
The 6 initiatives presented in this article will create the foundation of your sustainability program. From here, you can add initiatives to expand this program and further mitigate the environmental and social impact of your organization’s operations.
Using a green business certification platform like the Green Business Bureau (GBB) will help you do this. GBB’s online EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment list over 500 initiatives to help you develop sustainable business operations, from reducing your organization’s carbon footprint to developing ethical business practices, plus much more.
Once you’ve worked through our EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner, you’ll obtain certification for your efforts, which you can showcase using your own clickable Green Seal of Approval. On clicking this seal, key stakeholders can view what green initiatives you’ve successfully introduced and your sustainability goals.
Green Business Certification is your third-party verification system, built to support the development of a sustainable construction business.
Annie is a freelance writer who has written for various online and print publications specializing in lifestyle, business, branding, and career development.