Brace yourself for this: about 50% of all global energy use can be held attributable to construction. With this large of an impact, there is an indisputable case for shifting process to make the push for sustainability. But what exactly does construction sustainability mean? And most importantly, what can we do to get there?
If I had to compress my understanding of the idea into a few lines:
Sustainability in the construction industry involves optimizing process to extend the health of the planet, population, and construction discipline through increased recycling, lessened pollution (air, sound, soil, water, thermal, etc.), and involving specialists, improved technologies, or reused materials wherever applicable. Beyond the more known environmental perspective on sustainability, functionality and social objectives are also a part of the construction sustainability picture.
Although sustainability is a frequently discussed, but minimally understood concept, companies and families alike have unknowingly embraced sustainable resource use as companies have shifted their products and services to more efficiently use materials/energy and minimize chemicals released into the environment during production. Construction managers can adapt as well, and still meet their project needs within the same time frame with the right planning.
The Lafarge Holcim Foundation, a major proponent of sustainable construction, breaks up how building a sustainable future can be positioned into five “target issues.” As sustainability consideration grows in popularity, the following pointers can be a pretty useful start. I’ve taken the target issues laid out by Lafarge Holcim and translated them to a construction manager’s perspective with examples wherever relevant. With all the potential impact from involving these practices, it’s a worthwhile discussion understanding the comparably small effort needed to shift practices.
1. Progress: Development and Continuous Improvement
When construction projects utilize lessons learned to develop a new, innovative solution and allow for the improvement of the practice as a whole, they pave the road for sustainable development. A few ways projects could be sustainable in this sense would be:
– Through advancing building design practice or material integration in a way that becomes the industry standard
– Development of a new system that allows for improved documentation, safety, communication, or project planning for any piece of the puzzle (architecture, design, engineering, etc.)
2. People: Ethics and Inclusion
Another way a construction project can be sustainable is through remaining ethical to ensure a positive social impact. This relates to all affected parties ranging from the community where is a built to the construction professionals working to complete the project on site.
– Upholding a strong moral compass as plans are rolled out, and not losing sight of ethical considerations within any phase
– Fair and safe conditions for those both building and occupying once construction is finalized
– Zero tolerance for corruption from any party’s involvement
3. Planet: Environmental Considerations and Pollution Prevention
Instead of opting for the cheapest materials that benefit the short term cost perspective, there is a long term pay-off for many groups from minimizing ecological footprint and harboring attention towards environmentally smart land and energy use. Larger picture considerations like long term cost implications for the structure can be optimized with technology and smart systems, lending a strong opportunity for sustainability.
4. Prosperity: Is this building conducive to the financial health of the area?
If a building will be harmful from an economic perspective for the surrounding area, the project’s sustainability is at stake. From a financial view, the building must present a feasible cost burden to the owner (during construction and as operating expenses accumulate)—also their method of funding should be legitimate and ethical.
5. Place: Impact on Visual Environment
Believe it or not, visual pollution is a true influencer of a lower quality of life. This is mainly seen with undesirable or unfitting construction in an area. As a component of construction sustainability, buildings must show a strong architectural quality to provide a positive contribution to its environment.
These sustainability discussions will not only benefit the planet as a whole, but also the direct environment of the structure. Sure, this isn’t the most thrilling concept for construction managers who have perfected their existing process—but it will have a significant impact on not only the construction process and the environment –but also the performance of the building once it is built.