What is sustainable construction and why is it important?

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The construction industry, by its very nature, is a big user of natural resources. But with growing concerns over climate change and the finite nature of these resources, there is increasing pressure on construction firms to reduce their environmental impact.

While there are challenges involved in adopting sustainable construction methods, there are also great benefits too.

What is sustainable construction?

The goals of sustainable construction are to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment. Sustainable construction methods include:

  • using renewable and recyclable resources;
  • reducing energy consumption and waste;
  • creating a healthy, environmentally-friendly environment;
  • protecting the natural environment.

Why is sustainable construction important?

From energy usage to emissions, the construction industry has a huge impact on the environment.

Aside from the potential for building over wild habitats, the construction industry energy use is high. The heavy machinery used in construction still leans heavily on fossil fuels, and even inefficient electricity use can result in the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels further down the energy supply line. In fact, the construction industry accounts for an incredible 36% of worldwide energy usage, and 40% of CO2 emissions.

The fabrication and shipping of materials can have a great impact on carbon emissions. Mining for raw materials can result in the pollution of local water tables. The manufacture of concrete has resulted in over 2.8bn tonnes of CO2, a figure which is only going to keep increasing as 4bn tonnes of concrete is poured every year.

Construction can also result in hazardous waste, and the improper disposal of such waste can result in pollution that affects not just the environment, but also the health of people living in that area.

The challenges of sustainable construction

Adopting sustainable construction methods is not an overnight process; there are challenges to face, the greatest of which is cost. There will always be pressure on construction organisations to reduce costs where possible, but there are still concerns that sustainable construction methods will cost an organisation more.

The World Green Building Trends 2018 Smart Market Report reveals that almost 40% of UK firms reported that affordability was the greatest challenge presented by adopting sustainable construction practices. Almost 50% of firms stated that they expected green buildings to incur higher first costs.

Couple that with 34% of firms reporting that they face client demand for greener buildings, and you can see that many construction firms fear that they will be caught in the middle of demand and high costs.

But there is a light at the end of the sustainable tunnel: the perceived value of green buildings. Owners of a green building feel they are worth 7% more than a traditional one, which is likely due to the reduced operating costs that result from building energy-efficient structures. This greater perceived value can be cited in tenders and can help offset any additional costs that might result from a sustainable construction.

The benefits of sustainable construction

Naturally, adopting sustainable construction methods will reduce your organisation’s impact on the environment. But there are more tangible benefits too which will help you demonstrate the value of sustainable construction beyond environmental concerns.

The truth of the matter is that green buildings do come with lower operating costs. In fact, research suggests that the use of the latest sustainable technologies in construction processes could potentially deliver a remarkable €410bn a year in savings on global energy spending.

There are also direct savings available for your organisation; by reducing waste, for instance, you will reduce the fees charged by your waste management company. By adopting more efficient vehicles, you will save on fuel costs.

And there is one more benefit that could have a huge benefit on your company; sustainable construction can help your organisation’s reputation by demonstrating your sense of corporate social responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Awareness and interest in CSR, the idea that businesses should support good causes, is greater than ever. There is no question that CSR results in positive PR, but it can also influence buyer behaviour; when prices are similar, 91% of consumers are likely to switch to a different company if it’s associated with a good cause.

CSR can be shared amongst the supply chain. If your organisation only contracted suppliers that were committed to reducing their carbon footprint, for instance, this is positive PR for your organisation.

A sustainable idea

With an increasing amount of attention on the environmental impact of every industry, more construction firms are going to adopt sustainable construction methods. But, for now, your organisation has an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Being able to boast of your green credentials will be a boost both to the natural environment, to the communities surrounding the build, and to your organisation’s reputation.

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Written by Neill Gatley

EMS Scheme Manager - Experienced management systems Lead Auditor and EMS Scheme Leader. Assessing clients management systems to the requirements of ISO 14001, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 45001, OHSAS 18001.