Sustainable Construction: Building for a Better Future

Australian construction industry outlook 2022
Australian Construction Industry Outlook 2022
11 January, 2023
Early contractor involvement (ECI)
Early Contractor Involvement (ECI)
3 April, 2023

The construction industry has become increasingly aware of the negative impact that building can have on the environment, and sustainability is no longer something that can be ignored. In this article, we will explore what sustainable construction is, why it is important, and how to apply sustainable practices to building projects.

What is sustainable construction?

Sustainable construction refers to the practice of conducting construction activities in accordance with the latest standards of environmental protection. This involves selecting renewable and recyclable materials over non-recyclable ones, as well as implementing best practices to reduce waste and excessive energy consumption.

The ultimate aim of the sustainable construction industry is to minimize the negative impact that the construction sector has on the environment and to promote environmental protection. By following sustainable practices, construction professionals can allocate their effort, skills, and resources towards creating environmentally-friendly buildings.

Why is sustainability important?

We have witnessed the significant negative impacts that many construction projects had on the environment, such as increased pollution, excessive energy consumption leading to contribution to global warming, and inefficient use of natural resources. These activities result in increased greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to waste generation.

Furthermore, it has been found that the building sector is responsible for 38% of all carbon emissions. However, research conducted in Australia has shown that construction and maintenance operations account for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the main goals of sustainability in construction?

Considering the impact of the building industry on our environment, focusing on sustainability in construction aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Reducing the negative impact on the environment and people
  • Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increasing the use of recyclable materials
  • Reducing the consumption of natural resources
  • Preserving the natural environment as much as possible
  • Minimising waste and pollution
  • Contributing positively to efforts to reduce global warming.

What are the principles of sustainable building?

Sustainable building is based on solid principles that are expected to become mainstream in the construction industry. There are seven key principles of sustainable housing and building that we can emphasise.

  • Energy-efficient designs – sustainable housing offers several benefits, such as lower electricity and gas costs. Features like double-glazed windows, more comprehensive insulation, and solar panels conserve heat and reduce electricity costs, leading to a reduced carbon footprint.
  • Use of renewable and eco-friendly materials – use of renewable materials involves finding ways to incorporate more recycled materials into the construction of comfortable and functional housing, while reducing total waste and environmental pollution.
  • Safe housing – sustainable design helps in obtaining high-quality indoor environment (good air quality, proper lighting, optimum air humidity and temperature), with reduced air pollution and toxins which increases the overall quality of life and comfort of people.
  • Efficient waste management – recycling of waste materials is highly encouraged to reduce waste, and materials should be suitable for reuse. Additionally, green buildings should incorporate efficient waste management systems for ongoing use.
  • Environmental protection – Sustainability should promote a healthy environment, and therefore it’s important to minimise the negative effects of construction. Environmental protection should ensure that no harm comes to humans or animal life as a result of building projects.
  • Reducing pollution – Reducing pollution and carbon emissions in the construction industry would significantly help to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and promote overall environmental health.
  • Wastewater treatment – an essential aspect of sustainability in design, as water is a precious resource. Designing new, efficient systems to reduce water consumption and waste is a crucial goal of sustainable design.

Building and environment – the main challenges

There is a widespread belief among the public that applying sustainable design principles to construction is costly and will reduce the profitability of construction projects. Additionally, while sustainability is recognized as an important practice in construction globally, many local authorities in different countries have yet to establish laws that will promote and regulate sustainable construction practices.

How is Australia promoting sustainability in construction?

The Australian government has implemented various measures to promote sustainability in the construction industry. Therefore, the government has set an ambitious goal to have new buildings with net-zero energy by 2030. To reduce carbon emissions, all new buildings must operate at net-zero carbon by 2030 and achieve zero emission target by 2050.

Benefits of sustainability

The advantages of sustainable construction are numerous, but we will focus on the most significant ones, which can be categorized into three main groups: financial, health, and ecological benefits.

Financial benefits include lower construction costs achieved through reduced waste and material expenses, as well as reduced labour costs. Sustainable construction also saves on utility bills by decreasing energy consumption, which in turn increases productivity and optimizes material usage.

Health benefits include improved outdoor air quality and reduced pollution, noise reduction, and fewer allergies and health issues caused by waste and artificial materials.

Ecological benefits include a decrease in overall environmental pollution and increase the conservation of natural resources by utilizing recycled materials.

Sustainable building practices

Numerous construction companies have already acknowledged the significance of sustainable building practices and have incorporated them into their designs. Here is some advice on how to implement sustainability in construction:

  • Choose appropriate and renewable materials for the project
  • Reduce waste and improve waste management practices
  • Enhance cost-effectiveness in construction by reducing the usage of materials and waste
  • Implement better management of construction sites to reduce pollution
  • Apply recycling throughout every stage of the construction project
  • Conserve energy
  • Create new green buildings and adapt existing ones to meet sustainability standards.

What materials are used in sustainable construction?

A sustainable material is a material that can be easily recycled or reused and has a very low negative environmental impact. Ideally, the materials should be natural, and must not be affected by cold, heat, or humidity. A general approach would be to use recyclable and renewable materials whenever available, and using renewable energy as well.

Suitable materials for sustainable construction industry include wood, recycled metals, mud bricks, green thermal insulation, bamboo, recycled cement, straw bales, and sustainable concrete.

Angelo Antidormi
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